Nurse training standards have been placed under fresh scrutiny after allegations that sub-standard graduates are posing a potential risk to public safety.
In a report that aired on Monday night on the ABC program Four Corners, two former senior nursing academics expressed serious concerns about the standards of local and international nursing students graduating from the University of Western Sydney and the Australian Catholic University.
Dr Sharon Hillege had most recently worked at UWS, having left ACU seven years earlier after, she said, she had refused – under pressure from a senior department staff member – to reverse her decision to fail a number of students.
Four Corners reported that some of the students she had failed went on to gain professional registration just months later.
Another ACU staff member, in a letter to then-health minister Nicola Roxon, warned that the English proficiency of many students being accepted into university nursing courses was of a worryingly low standard.
Also, former UWS lecturer Barbara Beale – who at one point was acting department head of the UWS School of Nursing and retired last year – said she feared UWS’s student assessment processes were flawed and potentially posed a risk to patient safety.
She told Four Corners a paper she had given a mark of “two or three” out of a possible 30 was later deemed passable by another marker. Beale’s initial fail grade was upheld only after the assignment was repeatedly reviewed, she said.
She said many nurse graduates being “pushed through” the university system ended up in aged care, where they were responsible for the care of “the most vulnerable [and] ill people”.
“In the aged-care sector, there is not much supervision. Very quickly [these graduates] might themselves be the only registered nurse on duty and that is something that frightens me.”
UWS School of Nursing dean professor Rhonda Griffiths told ACI the university “takes the issue of graduate standards and integrity very seriously and has rigorous systems and processes in place to ensure these standards are upheld”.
“Whenever there is any issue or incidence arising that suggests there may be a slipping of the standards, it is very quickly and vigilantly investigated,” Griffiths said. “Nursing and midwifery programs are accredited by an external accrediting body and they are closely monitored by that body. Universities are particularly vigilant to make sure they uphold those standards. I think the issue here is [being generalised] across a large group of people when it’s not the case with these nursing programs in Australia – they are world-standard courses.”
ACI has also contacted ACU for comment in response to the allegations included in the Four Corners report.
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