Drive to curb attrition on nursing and other healthcare courses by 50%

The government wants drop-out rates halved by next year.

The Department of Health (DH) has instructed Health Education England (HEE) to reduce attrition from healthcare courses by 50% by 2017.

The government wants to reduce student drop-out rates. Picture: iStock

The DH’s annual mandate, which sets out the programme of work for HEE for 2016/17, says the organisation should work with partners to reduce ‘avoidable attrition from training programmes’.

HEE told Nursing Standard it has set up a project to look into the reasons students leave and set baseline data on levels of attrition in nursing, midwifery and therapeutic radiotherapy courses.

The steering committee – Reducing Pre-registration Attrition and Improving Retention (RePAIR) – is led by former chief nursing officer for England Dame Christine Beasley.

Achilles’ heel

Attrition from undergraduate nursing courses in the UK was described as ‘the Achilles’ heel of the nursing world’ in the 2015 Shape of Caring review, led by Lord Willis.

The review cited a 20% average drop-out rate for nursing students at universities in England. It warned that on some courses the attrition rate was as high as 50%.

With the cost of training a nursing student estimated to be about £70,000, there have long been concerns about wasted funds as a result of high drop-out rates.

Best practice

The RePAIR group, which is due to report next year, will look for examples of best practice and explore how to spread successful approaches across the country.

It will also ‘agree a sustainable national approach to improving pre-registration retention’, HEE said.

Call for clarity

James Buchan, professor at the school of health sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, said there was no detail to clarify what the DH considered to be ‘avoidable’ attrition.

‘It is commendable to be providing the support necessary to reduce attrition, which is clearly a long-term concern,’ he said. ‘However, the absence of any clear metrics in the report makes it difficult to gauge whether the ambitious target is achievable.’

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