Since 1996, hundreds of graduates have embarked upon careers in nursing thanks to the degree courses at Plymouth University: uniforms pressed, ready to utilise newly learned skills for the good of their patients.
But in 2015, to reflect a change of emphasis across national health, the School of Nursing and Midwifery asked itself, and its students, the question, ‘How can we work with patients to help them get the most out of their care?’
The answers that they’ve come up with have been in tune with the national heartbeat – so much so that earlier this year, Health Education England Senior Policy Nurse, Ruth Auton, came to see for herself the work being done. So what’s different about this education strategy, and how did it come about?
“We’re pioneering an ethos of ‘patients as partners’,” says Kim Young, Adult Nursing Field Lead and Nurse Lecturer, who has the responsibility for developing and implementing wider patient engagement initiatives. “That means providing nurses with the people skills that will serve them in good stead when they start their career in a clinical care setting. It supplements the existing activities that student nurses currently engage in during their clinical placement periods, and has the potential to make an important contribution to our local communities.”
The key development has been to link nursing students to patient participation groups (PPGs) based in GP practices. In collaboration with the Development Director at the Patients Association, Heather Eardley, the University launched a pilot project in the spring of 2015 involving 23 PPGs across the South West. Over a three-month period, nursing students attended meetings within their community to identify issues and suggest and create solutions, such as social and printed media campaigns, and communication sessions to raise awareness on key issues.
The project has not only benefited the community, through improving access to health services and better representation of hard-to-reach groups, but the wider patient engagement opportunities have also helped to enhance the students’ clinical placements. Student nurses now receive written feedback from patients, carers and service users on the care they provide on placements, helping them to fine-tune and perfect their practice.
Student nurse Megan Betts was partnered with a GP surgery in Falmouth, and during that time she created new resources such as a patient questionnaire.
She said: “I was able to go into the GP surgery and brainstorm with the patient participation group. It was a totally new approach, both for them and for us as nursing students. In the case of this GP surgery, they really struggle to get young mums in to see them, so I helped to improve some of the baby vaccination information, such as leaflets with details on meningitis B. In the longer term, there are other issues the course could help with, such as working with young adults on sexual health and sun protection in the summer.”
Zoe Young became a student representative in not one but two PPGs, one of which was her own GP surgery, and she’s keen to see the partnership continue post-graduation.
She said: “Having seen the difference it can make, I’m going to continue to work with the PPGs after I qualify as a nurse this year.”