Speech by Mr Micheál Martin TD at Launch of Pre-Registration Nursing Degree Programme
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
I am very pleased that you were all able to accept my invitation to join me here today on this landmark occasion for nursing education. It is fitting that all of the key stakeholders from the health and education sectors should be so well represented at the launch of an historic new development.
Rapid and unpredictable change throughout society has been the hallmark of the twenty-first century, and healthcare is no exception. Regardless of what change occurs, no one doubts that nursing is intrinsic to the health of this nation. However, significant changes in nurse education are now needed if the profession is to deliver on its social mandate to promote people´s health by providing excellent and sensitive care. As science, technology and the demands of the public for sophisticated and responsive health care become increasingly complex, it is essential that the foundation of nursing education is redesigned.
Pre-registration nursing education has already undergone radical change over the past eight years, during which time it has moved from an apprenticeship model of education and training to a diploma based programme firmly rooted in higher education. The Secretary General of my Department, Michael Kelly, played a leading role in bringing about this transformation, which has greatly enhanced the way students are prepared for entry to the nursing profession. The benefits of the revised model of education are clearly evident from the quality of the nurses graduating from the diploma programme.
Commission on Nursing Recommendation
The Commission on Nursing examined the whole area of nursing education, and set out a very convincing case for educating nursing students to degree level. It argued that nurses of the future would be required to possess increased flexibility and the ability to work autonomously. A degree programme would provide nurses with a theoretical underpinning that would enable them to develop their clinical skills to a greater extent and to respond to future challenges in health care, for the benefit of patients and clients of the health services.
The Commission has provided a solid framework for the professional development of nurses and midwives, including a process that is already underway for the creation of clinical nurse specialist and advanced nurse practitioner posts. This process will facilitate the transfer of skills across divisions of nursing. In this scenario, it is clearly desirable that the future benchmark qualification for registration as a nurse should be a degree in nursing studies.
Nursing Education Forum Report
A Nursing Education Forum was established in early 1999 to prepare a strategic framework for the implementation of a nursing degree programme. When launching the Forum´s report last January, I indicated that the Government had agreed in principle to the introduction of the proposed degree programme next year. At the time two substantial outstanding issues had yet to be resolved, namely the basis on which nurse teachers would transfer from the health sector to the education sector and the amount of capital and revenue funding required to operate the degree programme.
Agreements on Transfer of Nurse Teachers
My Department has brokered agreements between the Nursing Alliance and the Higher Education Institutions for the assimilation of nurse teachers as lecturers into their affiliated institutions. The terms of these agreements have been accepted by all four nursing unions following a ballot of their nurse teacher members.
I would like to pay particular tribute to all nurse teachers who have contributed to shaping the position, relevance and visibility of nursing through leadership, which embodies scholarship and excellence in the profession of nursing itself.
In response to a recommendation of the Nursing Education Forum, I established an Inter-Departmental Steering Committee, chaired by Bernard Carey of my Department, to consider all the funding and policy issues. This Steering Committee includes representatives of the Department of Finance and the Department of Education and Science as well as the Higher Education Authority.
The Steering Committee has been engaged in intensive negotiations with representatives of the Conference of Heads of Irish Universities and the Institutes of Technology in relation to their capital and revenue funding requirements. These negotiations were successfully concluded within the past few weeks.
Government Approval for Degree Programme
The satisfactory resolution of the industrial relations and funding issues cleared the way for me to go to the Government with concrete proposals for the implementation of degree level education for nursing students.
I am delighted to announce here today that the Government has approved all of my proposals, and that a four-year undergraduate pre-registration nursing degree programme will be implemented on a nation-wide basis at the start of the next academic year, 2002/2003.
Funding of Programme
The Government has approved the provision of capital funding totalling £176 million pounds for a major building and equipment programme to facilitate the full integration of nursing students into the higher education sector. This programme is due to be completed by September 2004, and will ensure that nursing students are accommodated in purpose built schools of nursing studies with state of the art clinical skills and human science laboratories at thirteen higher education sites throughout the country.
The Government has also agreed to make available the substantial additional revenue funding required to support the nursing degree programme. By 2006, the full year cost of operating the programme will rise to some £43 million pounds.
The scale of this investment in pre-registration nursing education is enormous by any yardstick. It demonstrates the firm commitment of myself and my Government colleagues to the full implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on Nursing, of which the introduction of pre-registration degree level education is arguably the most important.
This historic decision, and it is truly historic, will finally put the education of nurses on a par with the education of other health care professionals. The nursing profession has long been striving for parity, and my own involvement in the achievement of it is a matter of deep personal satisfaction to me.
Extra Training Places
I am also pleased to announce that the Government has approved my plans for increasing the number of nursing training places to coincide with the implementation of the degree programme next year. Ninety-three additional places in mental handicap and psychiatric nursing will be created at Athlone, Letterkenny, Tralee and Waterford Institutes of Technology. This will yield 392 extra places over the four years of the degree programme.
A total of 1,640 places annually on the new degree programme will thus be available. This is an all-time record, and maintaining the annual student intake at this level for the foreseeable future is a key element of my overall strategy for ensuring that we produce sufficient “home-grown” nurses for our health services.
Academic Development of Nurse Teachers
I am aware that the Nursing Alliance were anxious that some funding would be provided for the further academic career development of nurse teachers who transfer to one of the six Universities that will be involved in the delivery of the degree programme. I am happy to confirm that up to £300,000 in total per year will be available for this purpose over the first four years of the degree programme.
Administration of Nursing Degree Budget
In line with a recommendation of the Commission on Nursing, my Department will have responsibility for the administration of the nursing degree budget until the programme has been bedded down in the higher education sector. A primary concern will be to ensure that the substantial capital and revenue funding involved is ring-fenced for nursing studies. It is intended that responsibility for the budget will be transferred to the Department of Education and Science after the first cohort of nursing degree students have graduated in 2006.
Fee Support for Part-Time Degree Courses
In the context of today´s launch, it is relevant to refer to a special initiative that I introduced last year to assist registered nurses wishing to undertake part-time nursing degree courses. Under this initiative, nurses are entitled to have their course fees paid by their employers in return for a commitment to continue working in the public health service for a period following completion of the course. This initiative has proved extremely popular with large numbers of nurses availing of it.
I want to confirm here today that the free fees initiative will continue in operation until 2005, at a total cost of at least £15 million pounds. I am giving this commitment in order to assure this year´s intake of nursing students to the final diploma programmes that fee support for a part-time nursing degree course will be available to them when they graduate in three years time.
Sponsorship Scheme for Health Service Workers
The focus of today´s celebration is rightly on the landmark Government decision to implement the nursing degree programme next year. As Minister for Health and Children, and as a former Minister for Education, I also have a particular interest in the educational opportunities available to other health service workers to upgrade their skills.
I am pleased to announce that the Government has approved my proposals for the introduction of a sponsorship scheme for suitable, experienced health care assistants who wish to become nurses. This new scheme will commence next year and will be administered by the health boards. Successful applicants will be allowed to retain their existing salaries throughout the four years of the degree programme in return for a commitment to work as nurses for their health service employer for a period of five years following registration. Up to forty sponsorships will be available annually.
The new scheme will enable suitable applicants to undertake nursing education and training without suffering financial hardship. The greatest advantage of the scheme will be the retention by the public health service of staff who are supported under it, since they will have had practical experience of working in the service and their own personal commitment to upgrading their skills will be informed by that experience.
I am confident that the sponsorship scheme will be warmly welcomed by health service unions representing care assistants as providing an exciting new career development path for their members.
Education and health are now the two pillars upon which the profession of nursing rests. We must continue to build bridges, even tunnels where needed to strengthen this partnership. We must all understand partnerships don’t just happen they are designed and must be worked at.
The changes outlined here today are powerful incentives for those in healthcare agencies, academic institutions and regulatory bodies to design revolutionary programmes capable of shaping a critical mass of excellent practitioners. You have an opportunity, greater perhaps than has been granted to any other generation in history to make certain those changes are for the good. Ultimately changes that will make the country a healthier and more equitable place to live. The challenge relates to building a seamless preparatory programme which equally respects both education and practise as an indivisible duo whilst ensuring that high tech does not replace the human touch.
This is a special day in the history of the development of the Irish nursing profession, and I would like to thank everybody for their contribution. I want to express my particular appreciation of two people who by this stage are well known to all of you – Bernard Carey of my Department and Siobhán O´Halloran of the National Implementation Committee. Bernard and Siobhán have devoted considerable time and energy to the project on my behalf over the past fourteen months or so. That we are here today celebrating the launch of degree level education is due in no small part to their successful execution of the mandate that I gave them.
We live in a rapidly changing world, one in which nursing can no longer rely on systems of the past to guide it through the new millennium. In terms of contemporary healthcare, nursing is no longer just a reciprocal kindness but rather a highly complex set of professional behaviours, which require serious educational investment. Pre-registration nurse education will always need development and redesign to ensure our health care system meets the demands of modern society. Nothing is finite. Today more than ever the health system is dependent on the resourcefulness of nursing. I have no doubt that the new educational landscape painted will ensure that nurses of the future will be increasingly innovative, independent and in demand. The unmistakable message from my Department is that nursing really matters.