Nursing students are being given the chance to ‘tour’ around a rural county in a bus delivering health checks for patients and gaining experience of working in primary care.
Sarah Rogers, lead nurse for Gloucestershire Primary Care Training Hub, is behind the scheme, and said she launched it to address a gap in placement opportunities for students in primary care settings.
“I also want this scheme to help dispel some of the myths around primary care”
The Nurses on Tour initiative sees Ms Rogers take groups of student nurses out on the bus to GP surgery car parks to perform routine NHS health checks for practice patients.
Since the scheme launched at the end of last year, students have seen more than 300 patients, taking their blood pressure and checking pulses and blood glucose levels.
They also ask patients about diets, habits and lifestyle; everything except for the blood test part of the health check, which is performed in the surgery.
Ms Rogers began the scheme after seeing what she described as a “gap” in primary care placements for student nurses and “myths” about getting into GP nursing.
“Many don’t always get the opportunity to get an idea of what primary care is all about and they weren’t seeing what a great career it is,” Ms Rogers told Nursing Times.
“I absolutely think there’s a gap right now. We have 69 primary care practices in Gloucestershire, but only 11 were taking student placements.
“I also want this scheme to help dispel some of the myths around primary care; I know from students I’ve taught that many feel they can only come into primary care after one or two years of acute experience first, which is not true.”
Ms Rogers said she hoped the Nurses on Tour scheme would give more students exposure to primary care, and bring more in from an earlier stage in their career.
With an ageing population and, more crucially, an ageing GP nursing workforce, she said the need to attract people into the role was larger than ever.
A local nursing survey, conducted by Ms Rogers in Gloucestershire, found that roughly a third of primary care nurses planned to retire over the next five years.
“That’s a huge issue for us,” she said.
“We’re going to lose a third of our workforce. In the South West of England, it’s expected that in 10 years we’ll have one of the oldest populations in the world.
“Those people will be coming to primary care for their first port of call and we need nurses in primary care to look after them, so we need to start looking at building the workforce form the early point in their career.”
So far, Ms Rogers said, the scheme has been a hit, citing patient satisfaction and progress in dispelling myths around primary care being for more mature nurses.
“The patients absolutely love it,” she added.
“The thing with students is they have more time to spend speaking with the patients, and they’re so up to date with all the latest research, and really keen to impart that, the patients love that.
“Our first session was held on a snowy December day last year, the bus was warm inside, but whatever the weather, we’ll tour all around.”
Amy Tilton, a second-year adult nurse, went on the scheme having always wanted to go into primary care.
However, she said that before the nurses on tour scheme she had always assumed that GP nursing was not an entry-level career.
“[The scheme has been] really helpful, and this has confirmed that I want to go into primary care,” she told Nursing Times.
“All our patients have turned up, and this has been a chance to meet them one-on-one, and get experience.”
Harry Hansford, a third-year learning disability nurse, said he found getting direct experience performing health checks a huge boost to his conference.
He added: “As a learning disability student, a lot of my role will be to do with maintaining health, and health promotion and this was my first time meeting people off the cuff and trying to form a relationship very quickly.
“I think this will be a help.”
“This has confirmed that I want to go into primary care”
NHS Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board (ICB) said the touring student nurses had been a help to the local community and health service.
According to the board, the health checks showed that around 40% of patients had high blood pressure, preventing people from “falling between the gaps”, and helping take the pressure off the surgeries themselves.
Already, since it launched last year, some who have been on the scheme have gone on to take jobs in primary care, the ICB added.
Marion Andrews-Evans, executive chief nurse at NHS Gloucestershire, said Ms Rogers’ scheme was a “great example” of innovation.
She added: “Not only do the nurses on tour help our GPs and practice nurses meet the needs of those people who might not normally book in for a health check, but it also gives the students an insight into life in primary care.
“Sarah and her team are working hard to make sure we recruit and retain even more amazing nurses and health care assistants as well as supporting our existing staff.
“As the role of nurses changes it is so important that we invest in our workforce to make sure we help everyone in Gloucestershire live a full and healthy life.”