Nursing competence 10 years on: fit for practice and purpose yet?

J Clin Nurs. 2008 May;17(10):1263-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2007.02243.x.


Aims and objectives: This paper examines how nurses are prepared to be clinically competent and safe at registration, so that they are fit for practice and purpose. It follows up two papers on competence published in 1997 and 1998 and investigates subsequent developments.

Background: In 1979, major changes in nursing affected nurse education and preparation for competence. In the following two decades, it became clear that nurses lacked clinical skills. This paper examines subsequent changes and asks the question whether this crucial shortcoming has now been remedied. This paper considers the background and context of change in nursing and nurse education in the 1980s. It looks at the new ideology, to prepare the 'knowledgeable doer' and examines the consequences of the change on nursing competency from the 1990s to the present day.

Methods: This is a position paper. Professional policy documents from the English National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting, United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting and Nursing and Midwifery Council, government reports and legislation on nursing and relevant nursing literature are examined and critically analysed and conclusions drawn.

Conclusions: From 1923-1977, mandatory nursing syllabuses set by the General Nursing Council of England and Wales required the registered nurse to have acquired certain specific clinical skills. These were rigorously tested to an explicit standard set by the General Nursing Council before a nurse was awarded state registration. Twenty-five years later, the loss of this system for ensuring this competence and the implications of this loss, have been widely recognised. As a result, many nurse training institutions have introduced clinical skills laboratories, simulation of practice and the Objective Structured Clinical Examination. However, to the authors' surprise and contrary to their initial expectations, the Nursing and Midwifery Council has not made these systems uniform or mandatory and so still has no way of ensuring all nurse training is producing safe nurses in the United Kingdom. The authors conclude that the untested educational ideology that brought root and branch change to nurse training in 1983 and which failed to produce nurses 'fit for practice and purpose' may still prevail.

Relevance to clinical practice: The present paper demonstrates that United Kingdom nurse training still has no uniform and mandatory system in place to ensure, as far as is possible, that all registered nurses are clinically competent and safe to practice.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence*
  • Education, Nursing / standards
  • England
  • Nurses / standards*
  • Wales