'Golden hello' solution to learning disability nursing crisis another example of policymakers having 'lost the plot'

One-off payments of £10,000 are to be offered to attract postgraduate students into difficult to recruit to courses like learning disability nursing

One-off payments of £10,000 are to be offered to attract postgraduate students into difficult to recruit to courses like learning disability nursing

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At RCN congress in Belfast general secretary Janet Davies, referred to the 'golden hello' that has been offered to postgraduate applicants to the nursing professions. There is still no support for undergraduate applicants because bursaries were cut in England – since 2016.

Ms Davies was remarking on the government's response to the crisis in recruiting nursing students to universities, with figures showing numbers have decreased by more than 15,000 since the introduction of university fees in nursing undergraduate programmes in England.

Protected status

The UK needs to create protected status for all nursing and midwifery professions at entrance to university at undergraduate level. Fees must be removed at undergraduate level otherwise the staffing crisis in the NHS will become a catastrophe. I also advocate that private sector service providers of learning disability services in the UK seriously consider providing scholarships and bursaries to undergraduate student nurses wishing to pursue careers in learning disability nursing.

I support the Learning and Intellectual Disabilities Nursing Academic Network and my learning disability nurse education colleagues in the UK's drive towards a coordinated national approach to tackle the crisis in recruiting undergraduate student nurses. Postgraduate lures or handouts won't fix the crisis of a 15,000 drop off in university applications for nursing.

Strategy needs a complete overhaul

The UK needs a completely new and vision for nursing and midwifery education, staffing and workforce strategy. A collaboration between the NHS, key stakeholders, university sector, RCN and the Nursing and Midwifery Council is needed, and this approach needs to be led by chief nurses in all four UK countries.

Curiously, the UK used to depend heavily on Irish people travelling to the UK to do nursing but the fees fiasco has ended this workforce stream, as will Brexit. The recruitment of Irish nurses goes a far back as Florence Nightingale when she came to Ireland to recruit 14 Irish nursing religious sisters to help staff the military hospitals during the Crimean War, principally Scutari Hospital. Two nursing sisters from the Mercy convent in my home town of Carlow were part of Nightingale’s nursing mission to the Crimean War.

I believe the Windrush debacle has also created havoc in this discussion as many nurses in the NHS came from Commonwealth countries.

As an NHS-trained nurse looking on from the outside of the UK now,  it strikes me that a major rethink is required for nursing and midwifery education in the UK. A nursing and midwifery recruitment and staffing fiasco exists in the NHS and seems now only to be heading for catastrophe.

UK healthcare policymakers have lost the plot and severely badly judged the future of the nursing and midwifery workforce in the UK.

Further information

National Health Exectutive (2018) Government promises £10k ‘golden hello’ to lure postgraduate nurses

About the author

Paul Horan is an assistant professor in intellectual disability nursing, School of Nursing & Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin

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