Nurses missing out on core safety training as cutbacks start to bite: RCN

Published: 30 March 2010

EMBARGO: 00:01 Tuesday 30th March 2010

Nurses missing out on core safety training as cutbacks start to bite: RCN

Nurses across the UK are struggling to access training in core areas such as infection control, a new survey by the RCN reveals today (30 March).

The landmark survey of over 3000 nurses shows that almost a third (32.1%) have been unable to access their mandatory training this year. Despite this, many nurses are using annual leave (34.2%) and self-funding training (38.8%) in areas such as infection control, child protection and basic life support.

However, today’s survey shows that only just over half (55.8%) felt that they were up to date with their training.

The RCN is warning that this situation is one of the ‘red flags’ indicating that cut-backs are starting to bite. The survey follows recent RCN research indicating that Trusts may be freezing specialist nurse posts, despite the fact that these roles save the NHS money. This situation echoes the deficits crisis in 2006, when specialist nurse posts were lost and training was cut back as a result of NHS Trusts taking short-term measures to save money.

Janet Davies, Executive Director of Nursing and Service Delivery for the RCN, said:
“Today’s survey follows our recent warning about maintaining investment in specialist nurses – a key indication that cuts are starting to take hold. We know from previous economic downturns that training is often the first place managers look when they need to start making cuts – even though nurses need to be up to date with issues such as infection control and child protection at all times.”

Mandatory training for nurses includes areas which are crucial for patient safety and need regular updating such as infection control and manual handling.
Of the third of nurses surveyed who said they had not had their mandatory training this year, the most frequent reason given (by 44% of respondents) was staff shortage and a lack of cover, suggesting that wards are being hit by a ‘double whammy’ of low staffing levels and staff who are unable to update their skills.

The survey also shows that low staffing levels mean that even where training is approved, staff are often forced to cancel at short notice to cover on the wards.

The RCN is calling for protected training time and safer staffing levels – including the right number and balance of staff on the wards and in the community – as part of its general election manifesto.

Nurses detailed their experiences on the ground. One said:
“I’m missing some of the basic mandatory training like manual handling, [my] manager says every time we have not got slots in the programme, so training has been promised but never materialised.”

Another said:
“On one occasion I was told I could have time off, but there was no cover so I had to forego the training. I can arrange my own training, and there is a possibility my employers will pay for it. However it will be in my own time.”

Other key findings in the survey include –
• Over half (56%) of those questioned had spent more than ten hours of their own time over the past year undertaking Continuous Professional Development (CPD)
• Of those who have undertaken training during the past year, 65.8% reported that cover was not provided for their absence

Janet Davies added:
“Mandatory training is there for a reason – it ensures that staff are up to date with infection control procedures, life saving techniques and good practice. It is a testament to the dedication of these nurses that they are prepared to give their own time to learn and update their practice, but many are simply unable to do this and staff should not be expected to. It is up to trusts and managers to ensure that staff are up to date and can access the training they need. Nurses are carrying out more and more tasks, but we can see they are starting to be hit by a double whammy – staff shortages and a lack of training.”

Notes to editors

3086 RCN members took part in the survey, which ran from January to March 2010

Mandatory training includes areas which staff must undertake in order to work, which depends on their place of work and role. Some of this training is required under health and safety law.

The Care Quality Commission survey of NHS staff recently found that of those who had identified training needs with their managers, only fifty per cent actually received the agreed training. See -http://www.cqc.org.uk/_db/_documents/16032010_NHSstaffsurvey_Nationalbriefing.doc
For further information, interviews or illustrations please contact the RCN Press Office on 02076473633. 

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is the voice of nursing across the UK and is the largest professional union of nursing staff in the world. The RCN promotes the interest of nurses and patients on a wide range of issues and helps shape healthcare policy by working closely with the UK Government and other national and international institutions, trade unions, professional bodies and voluntary organisations.