Sunday, 5 September 2010

Balancing the Books, more numbers, a 7.30 read and a waste of eggs.

It is that time of the year where every day brings with it uncertainty, angst, hope and relief. I am of course, talking about it being the end of our recruitment activities. Although our student income comes from the NHS rather than HEFCE, we are still subject to the same issues in terms of under or over recruiting. Both ends of the spectrum bring real financial pain. The tolerance level for achieving our commission target is very narrow, partly because we have such a high number of students entering the School every year. Indeed, this week I discovered that we are now the largest School of Nursing and Midwifery in the North West of England.

However, and thanks to the sheer hard work, commitment and conviction (wanted to use ‘faith’ rather than ‘conviction’ but I am not sure the PC police will allow me anymore) of our academic and admin staff we have achieved an almost perfect match of students recruited to commission targets. We just have to hope they all turn up and register in a couple of week’s time.

I am not the only one worried about the recruitment of nurses. I was talking with one of our local Directors of Nursing this week and amongst other topics of conversation we talked about the impact, 4 or 5 years hence of reducing the numbers of nursing commissions as part of the plan to make savings of £20m from the North West NHS Training budget over the next three years. Many of us (with grey hair that is) have been in such boom and bust situations before, and nobody ends up being a winner. The other subject we talked about was what were seen to be poor levels of numeracy found with newly qualified nurses.

Some of our nurses had been given a numeracy test as part of a recent round of job interviews, and many had struggled with these tests. This is not a local phenomenon. In a study published last week, it was revealed that some 55% of students and 45% of nurses failed a simple numeracy test. The study involved some 350 student and qualified nurses. Astoundingly 92% and 89% respectively failed the drug calculation tests (at a pass level of 60%). However, both students and nurses appeared more able to undertake calculations for solids, oral liquids and injections than calculations for drug percentages, drip and infusion rates. Nurses were more able than students to perform basic numerical calculations and calculations for solids, oral liquids and injections.

As a School we have long realised the importance of ensuring our students have the basic mathematical skills required for drug and other calculations. We have put in place initiatives that periodically provide learning opportunities to prevent skill decay. This year we have introduced numeracy and literacy testing as part of the selection process as we have found paper qualifications attesting competence are not always a good indicator of levels of ability.

It was not my in-ability to tell the time that was the reason for me sitting on a bench at the side of a duck pond, outside the Faculty of Health Building at Edge Hill University, at 07.30am on Thursday of last week. It was my desire to avoid the traffic – some Schools have started to go back and the slight lull we have experienced in terms of the numbers of cars and delays over the last few weeks when travelling on the regions roads is rapidly disappearing. So I went early and was able to sit in the early morning sunshine reading a PhD thesis in preparation for a forthcoming examination. I was there to meet with the other Deans and Heads of Schools of Health and Social Care to agree a way to meet the savings target set by the NHS North West commissioners of education and training for a all health care professionals. It was an interesting meeting, but productive too. Our response will go to the Strategic Health Authority next week.

The saddest and dreariest story of the week was the egg throwing in Dublin as Ex PM Blair arrived to promote his latest book. What a waste of eggs. A more effective protest against this dreadful man and his book about his time in politics might have been not to have turned up in the first place. Peacocks only display their feathers when they think there is someone interested in them or someone who might want to admire them.

Of course for me, I also think all egg throwing is a waste. Every egg is a potential chicken. My two little bantam survivors of the fox attack have now started laying eggs. I had an omelette on Friday – it only took 8 tiny eggs to make! Blair allegedly now admits that banning fox hunting was a mistake. I could have told him that many years ago.