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The future of education for practice nurses

General practice
The education of nurses in general practice is key to the sector’s future

It is more than two and a half years since the publication of the General Practice Nurse (GPN) 10 Point Plan. The Plan is now moving into the ‘legacy’ phase, reflecting on all the actions that have changed the practice nurse profession in a positive and sustainable way.

In 2018, the QNI was commissioned by NHS England/Improvement to develop an Association of Academic General Practice Nurse Educators (AAGPNE). Until the creation of the AAGPNE, the voice of those leading programmes in universities in the UK had no way of being heard in a collective way by those responsible for developing policies around GPN education and practice. Now, the AAGPNE is on the path to becoming a self-sustaining, membership-based organisation akin to sister organisations such as the Association of District Nurse Educators (ADNE), the UK Standing Conference on Health Visitor Education (UKSC) and the National Forum of School Health Educators (NFSHE).

I attended the fourth meeting of the AAGPNE recently in Newcastle. I was able to hear the concerns, challenges and solutions of the membership as they described their local education provisions for GPNs. A GP from England described the requirement to provide high quality education for nurses in general practice, given their growing responsibility in front line care. He described a time when it was voluntary for a doctor at senior house officer level to undertake GP training when moving from the hospital to primary care – and this was as recently as the 1980s. It struck me that there are significant parallels with general practice nursing today. Education and training is variable by region and country and in many cases there may be no opportunity for those new to general practice to receive training in this specialist area of practice.

However, two recent actions may change this. One is the publication of the GPN standards of education and practice, due to be published in February 2020 by NHSE/I and Health Education England. This work has been led by the AAGPNE chair Angie Hack and the membership have contributed their wisdom and expertise in developing the standards. In addition to the expert views of a large number of GPNs around England. AAGPNE colleagues in Scotland also shared their work in a document which describes the roles and education of nurses at various levels.

The second action is the decision by the Nursing and Midwifery Council to review the existing standards of specialist practice. This confirms the specialist nature of the role and the need for the professional regulator to provide a consistent set of education standards on which to base GPN preparation for practice. It feels like the general practice nurse has at last arrived at the point where general practitioner education was some 40 years ago. We should take a moment to celebrate this milestone.

Crystal Oldman, chief executive, QNI