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'Why CPD is not an optional extra'

Dr David Chung, Vice President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Scotland and Consultant in Emergency Medicine.

Continuing professional development is inextricably linked to patient safety and the well-being of NHS staff, says Dr David Chung.

It is well documented in the media that patient safety in the NHS is achieved through adequate resources. For me in the Emergency Department, this means more hospital beds to reduce long waits. It means social care in the community to keep patients in the safest place for them - their home - and to diminish Delayed Discharges. We also need enough staff to provide excellent patient care. It’s as simple as that! 

What is not so well discussed is the importance of continuing professional development (CPD) and its inextricable links to patient safety and the well-being of NHS staff. 

When you sign up to the medical and nursing profession you inadvertently pledge to ‘treat every day as a school day’. In my job, I constantly learn about new standards of care, I received safety alerts about new dangerous drugs and the only certainty is that something about patient care and treatment will have changed.

An important part of my learning is through CPD. It enables me to ensure that my capabilities and knowledge is still relevant. It helps me to advance my career and supports trainees to develop their skills. It gives me time to reflect. It helps me to provide high quality and safe patient care. And it improves my own well-being and career satisfaction. 

As a doctor, I am lucky. I get protected CPD time written into my contract. It is funded by my Health Board. I can guarantee that at least two working weeks of my time annually will be spent on my professional development. It might be moved, but it is never cancelled. I am always able to meet the CPD requirements for revalidation year on year. I’ve always got an opportunity to have some protected learning time. CPD isn’t a perk, or a bonus, it’s essential to patient safety.

If you are a nurse, you are not so lucky. I have heard from nursing colleagues that they do not receive sufficient time to participate in CPD. It is not funded. It is not actively encouraged. It is not even protected. It’s seen as a “perk”.

The RCN Scotland has publicly warned that due to staffing constraints and pressures at work agreed CPD time is often delayed or even cancelled. In other cases, nurses have had to undertake professional development courses as a part of their annual leave or on their days off, or else they will not get it.

I would argue that this is detrimental to staff morale. Furthermore, the disparity between doctors’ and nurses’ protected CPD time can be extremely counterproductive to team working. 

The GMC states on its website that: “CPD helps improve the safety and quality of care provided for patients and the public”. Isn’t that in itself reason enough to make CPD recognized and protected for nurses as it is for doctors? 

Policymakers and Health Boards in Scotland must find a way to fund and guarantee professional development time for nurses. Let’s make it easy for all NHS Scotland staff to learn, develop and grow. At the end of the day, it is vital to improve patient care.

Page last updated - 04/08/2019