NHS workforce needs to be key focus of whoever wins next election
Group of nursing and healthcare academics issues four-point wish it hopes will shape political priorities of the party that wins the next general election
Falling nursing students numbers must be urgently addressed by the government both present and future, university leaders said.
The Council of Deans of Health published a set of priorities for boosting the NHS workforce it hopes will inform the political agenda ahead of the general election, which must be held next year at the latest. They are:
- Urgently address the growing shortfall in healthcare educators and researchers
- Boost student recruitment and retention
- Review the layers of regulation in healthcare education
- Expand and diversify the healthcare placements needed
Next government must prioritise expansion of the NHS workforce
The organisation said applications to healthcare programmes have declined dramatically and action is needed now to attract more students. Chief executive Ed Hughes said: ‘Crucial to any party seeking to form a government will be questions around the sustainability of the NHS and how to deliver the growth in the healthcare workforce set out in the NHS long-term workforce plan.’
Latest Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) data show a 13% drop in the number of students accepted on to UK nursing degrees. The figure went from 21,140 in 2022 to 18,300 this year.
‘Students may not see an NHS career as desirable or be aware of the variety of roles and career routes available. Too many allied health professional roles are not widely known about, but even within midwifery and nursing, the different paths in practice, academia and research are not well-understood,’ the council’s policy document states.
‘High financial and emotional costs faced by healthcare students also contribute to drop-out rates’ it adds.
Student debt and limited clinical placement opportunities
Falling student numbers coupled with worrying attrition rates have prompted calls for the government to write-off student loan debt for NHS staff in a bid to boost the workforce.
The council wants an overhaul of placements to improve nursing students’ learning. It notes under-capacity in the NHS limits the number of students universities can take on, calling for expansion in community settings.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak admitted in his speech to the Conservative Party conference that the UK has not trained enough nurses ‘for decades’.
The government set ambitious targets in the NHS long-term workforce plan to recruit up to 190,000 more nurses by 2037. But NHS leaders said employers are still waiting to hear details on how this will be funded and implemented.
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