Bursary cut could further decrease numbers of mental health and learning disability nurses, says RCN chief

RCN general secretary Janet Davies says shortage of specialist nurses is ‘very, very worrying’.

Numbers of mental health and learning disability nurses could continue to fall in the wake of the nursing bursary being scrapped in England, RCN general secretary Janet Davies has warned.

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Figures from a report by the Care Quality Commission published in July showed the number of full-time equivalent mental health nurses had fallen by 12% since 2010.

NHS Digital data showed there were 3,328 learning disability nurses working in hospitals and community services in England as of June this year, down from 5,284 in June 2010.

Meanwhile, the bursary for nursing students was removed in August, prompting concerns that would-be nurses will be put off applying for university courses.

Worrying times

Speaking on the Nursing Standard podcast, Ms Davies called the shortage of learning disability nurses ‘very, very worrying’.

She said: ‘It’s very interesting because the Department of Health in England has listed learning disabilities as a priority and yet they have removed funding for the education of nurses.

‘It’s incredibly concerning, we won’t get an end to the shortage of nurses any time soon, because we have got to train nurses and it is looking pretty poor.

‘The funding was removed for pre-registration and we’ve seen a fall in numbers, particular in mental health and learning disabilities.’

Fall in degree applications

Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) figures published in July showed applications for all nursing degrees for 2017-18 in the UK were down 19% on figures for 2016-17.

A Nursing Standard investigation revealed there were 601 learning disability nursing degree places available in England in 2016-17, down from 639 in 2014-15.

Ms Davies added that apprenticeship routes into nursing – whereby tuition fees are paid by the employer or through government funding, and would-be nurses earn while they learn – are as yet not seeing the numbers of applicants and courses to make a difference to recruitment.

‘The RCN has been pointing out these difficulties for quite some time, and we’ve been ignored.

‘Ignore the experience of the RCN and it’s 450,000 members at your peril,’ she said.

In July the government committed to creating 21,000 extra mental health posts by 2021, including nurses, therapists, peer support workers and others.

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