Government must develop plan for fall in nursing applicants – Health Foundation

The decision to abolish bursaries for student nurses and other health professionals must be accompanied by a contingency plan to deal with a drop in applications for training places, according to the Health Foundation.

The Department of Health confirmed last month that it is going ahead with proposals to replace bursaries with student loans despite opposition from bodies including the Royal College of Nurses, Unite, the Patients Association and NHS Clinical Commissioners (NHSCC).

In a blog post, Toby Watt, a finance analyst at the Health Foundation, said that there is currently “an overwhelming demand” for nursing training, with UCAS data showing that 57,000 students applied for 21,450 places in 2015.

He says that if the reforms do deliver an additional 3,300 health professional training places a year as the government has promised, an average of 2,046 of these will be for nurses, leaving 2.4 applicants for every training place.

However, it is not known if the new system, which London Economics and Unite have estimated will cause a 71% increase in costs for students, will discourage applicants.

Watt said: “We can’t be certain what the future holds. The removal of the bursaries must therefore be accompanied with a plan for what happens if the number of applicants does fall by 60% or more.

“Training more nurses is essential, and this reform will help liberalise the labour market so it can react more efficiently and help meet the growing demand for clinical staff.  However, the long-term success of these reforms will depend on nursing becoming an attractive career option.”

NHS Improvement estimated that in 2014 the shortfall of nurses needed was high as 15,000.

Critics of the new proposals have warned that they are particularly likely to discourage the 40% of nursing students who are over 25, because they are more likely to have families and additional student debt.

NHSCC has also warned that an increase in student nurses is not necessarily a good thing because new applicants could be chosen “based upon the ability to pay rather than the key values and skills required in the nursing profession”.

(Image c. Anthony Devlin from PA Archive and Press Association Images)

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Sam   03/08/2016 at 14:09

Recruitment of nurses has been at crisis point for years and a change was needed. Guidelines and regulators requiring providers to increase nursing numbers is useless if the nurses don't exist and we can't continually expect to raid other countries of their nurses forever. The removal of bursaries will ultimately be a good thing as the market will better regulate the supply of places with an expected expansion from the demand of prospective students. The years of restrictions on numbers under the bursary system has left too few nurses when many more people wanted to come forward to join the profession. Demand in applicants would likely lead to further places being created; particularly at a time when some trusts are offering sign-on bonuses and alike to recruit nurses to their organisation. They may even move to a graduate sponsorship model, as well. The qualities required for entry and completion of the course mean that all those who graduate will be of the required standard in values and skills, and the new system will not affect that, however, for overall balance, the government should maintain some form of bursaries to assist those from deprived backgrounds or a part-bursary, part-student loan extension for those re-entering studies. The government should also use this launching of a new system to actively encourage boys at school to consider nursing as a profession. We have seen – although more should still be done – the positive results of campaigns to encourage girls to study science and engineering and we should pursue similar activities to recruit boys to nursing.

Nicola   04/08/2016 at 08:35

The key here is just that, make nursing an attractive career option. Why would students choose to be 50k in debt for a salary of 21-26k ?! I studied with the bursary and the 7500 top up loan (that's a total for the three years) this comes out of my salary and means I cannot afford to be in a pension scheme and afford to live! There are many nurses in the same boat that I know, they are also visiting food banks, working extra unsafe hours either in nursing or another field part time just to make ends meet. I sadly wouldn't recommend anyone go into nursing any more. Me and others at the nhs hospital I work at have just started the application to go abroad as our contracts are changing meaning our off duty can be changed with 48hrs notice with no extra pay- have theatre tickets on your day off? Doesn't matter you will be expected to come in if asked ! And training will have to be done in our own time ..... So all those essential skills like taking bloods, catheterisation etc all in our own time at our expense ! No work life balance at all

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