In a drive to “put research at the heart of frontline services and make NHS staff some of the best trained in the world”, the coalition government has announced a Clinical Academic Careers Training Pathway Strategy for England, to be managed through the National Institute of Health Research.

The aim is to encourage more nurses, midwives and allied health professionals (AHPs) to take up opportunities to move into clinical academic careers through funded further education or internships that build experience in research to improve care.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley set out details of the Clinical Academic Careers Training Pathway Strategy at the second annual Florence Nightingale Foundation conference in London.

Clinical academic training programme

Following recommendations in a 2007 report by the UK Clinical Research Collaboration Sub-committee for Nurses in Clinical Research, Developing the best research professionals, the Chief Nursing Officer for England and the Chief Allied Health Professions Officer commissioned a clinical academic training programme for nurses, midwives and the allied health professions in England.

The National Institute for Health Research Trainees Coordinating Centre has been hosting the masters, clinical doctoral and clinical lectureship elements of this training pathway since 2008. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has delivered a senior clinical lectureship award programme since 2010.

According to the Department of Health, however, only “a fraction” of the nearly 500,000 nurses, midwives and allied health professionals now working across areas such as school nursing, critical care, paediatrics, rehabilitation and maternity are active in research.

Inform care

Successful applicants for training grants under the strategy “will be able to develop research projects that inform the care they deliver for patients on a daily basis”, the DoH said.  

Once they have qualified, it added, nurses, midwives and AHPs “will use their research to inform day-to-day duties and ensure these practices are adopted in other hospitals and clinics”.

Allied health professionals include art therapists, drama therapists, music therapists, chiropodists/podiatrists, dietitians, occupational therapists, orthoptists, prosthetists and orthotists, paramedics, physiotherapists, diagnostic radiographers, therapeutic radiographers, speech and language therapists.

First-hand knowledge

“Often it is those with first-hand knowledge of caring for patients who can apply their skills in improving patient care,” Lansley commented. “This is about investing in our nurses, midwives and allied health professionals so they are able to offer the best care possible and make the NHS even better.”

In future the clinical academic careers programme will be the responsibility of Health Education England, which will be set up as a new national body to oversee workforce planning and education and training in the NHS and public health system.  

Health Education England “will provide a focus on education and training that we have not had before”, the DoH noted.

It will take national leadership on planning and developing the health workforce, promote high-quality education and training responsive to the changing needs of patients and local communities, authorise and support the development of Local Education and Training Boards, and allocate and be accountable for NHS education and training resources as well as the outcomes achieved.