NHS workforce plan: can it boost nurse numbers without proper focus on retention?
Despite pledge for significant increases to nurse training places, the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan has not addressed training capacity or retention strategies
Nurses have criticised the long-awaited NHS workforce plan for not properly addressing the retention of experienced staff or including a plan on how a pledge to introduce tens of thousands of extra nurse training places will be delivered.
Plan includes pledge to increase nurse training places by 80%
The hugely ambitious plan, published by NHS England on 30 June, pledged to increase adult nursing training places by 92%, taking the total number of places to almost 38,000 by 2031-32. It also laid out proposals to increase overall nurse training places by 80%, to 53,500 by 2031-32.
Over the same period, training places for mental health nursing will increase by 38% and 46% for learning disability nursing, the plan reveals.
It adds: ‘By 2028-29, there will be a total of 40,000 nursing places funded. This will put us on the path to increase nursing training places to over 53,500 by 2031-32.’
Overall, the NHS would recruit 190,000 more nurses in the next 15 years, the plan said. It also pledges to increase training places for nursing associates to 10,500 by 2031-32.
But nursing leaders and staff have questioned where the capacity to train additional students would come from. British Association of Critical Care Nurses chair Nicki Credland questioned the thinking behind the plan, concluding: 'Just saying it does not make it happen.'
Nurses also criticised a lack of emphasis on retaining experienced staff, with nursing apprentice Alex Entwisle tweeting about the current struggle to learn on overstretched wards.
RCN says 'targets alone won't deliver staff needed'
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: ‘While expanding places is key, it requires the experienced nurses to support students during their education. The responsibility to expand training must not fall on local health systems before central government addresses key issues like inadequate pay and funding.'
Ms Cullen also pledged to support work on the urgent implementation of the plans and 'fill in any blanks'.
Nurse and RCN steward Edel Coulter pointed out the issues lying behind poor retention.
The plan also specifies that nurses will be allowed to start work as soon as they graduate in May instead of September. There were also promises to ramp up apprenticeships so students can ‘earn while they learn’.
The aim is to have 22% of registered nurses qualifying through nursing apprenticeships, including 20% of adult nurses, 33% of learning disability nurses and 28% of mental health nurses by 2028-29, the report states.
Plan to increase apprentice numbers does not factor in training capacity
While London South Bank University professor of healthcare and workforce modelling Alison Leary welcomed the plan, she too questioned how increased numbers of apprentices would be trained with a depleting workforce.
She told Nursing Standard: ‘The mass expansion of apprentice workers without the workforce to train them is a risk.’
Addressing the UK’s over-reliance on internationally trained nurses, the plan says a ‘near doubling’ of nursing education and training places would help reduce the number of new nurses trained overseas.
But in the short and medium term, recruitment of overseas nurses ‘would need to remain at least around current levels in coming years’ to meet workforce demand, the plan adds.
There was also a lack of increase in children’s nurses – and no mention of pay in the plan.
The plan does mention some retention strategies such as improved flexible working options and reforms to the pension scheme, but many felt this was not enough and said paying staff fairly was crucial to keeping them in the health service.
Professor Leary added it was positive there was some focus on retention and flexibility, but it needed to go ‘much further’, such as ensuring nurses who work part-time are not forced to accept lower band jobs.
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