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Don't use rise in nursing student places to plug rota gaps, RCN tells Tories

'25% increase in nursing student places announced today must not be used to plug gaps in rotas'

A 25% increase in nursing student places announced today must not be used to plug gaps in short-staffed rotas, the RCN said.


Jeremy Hunt addresses the 2017 Conservative conference in Manchester  Picture: Getty

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt told the Conservative party conference in Manchester that the number of students starting their course in England next September would be 5,500 higher than this year.  

The government said the increase was in addition to the previous commitment to provide 10,000 more training places for nurses by 2020.

'Historic increase'

Mr Hunt said: ‘This represents the biggest increase in nurse training places in the history of the NHS – and we will make sure many of the additional places go to healthcare assistants training on hospital sites, allowing us to expand our nurse workforce with some highly experienced people already working on the NHS front line.’

The RCN said in May there were 40,000 nursing vacancies across the NHS in England. While welcoming the increase in training, RCN general secretary Janet Davies said the plans were too focused on hospital care.

‘Significant increases to training numbers is welcome – we desperately need more nurses,’ she said. ‘However, they must be educated to the highest standards. We are concerned at the risk of students plugging the gaps in the current workforce at the expense of quality patient care and their own learning experience.'

Growth in associate role

Mr Hunt also announced an additional 5,500 nursing associates would be trained each year by 2019. He said places would increase from 2,000 in 2017 to 7,500 a year from 2019.

He said nursing associates would be able to take a two-year work-based nursing apprenticeship to allow them to qualify as registered nurses.

The Conservatives say they expect 50% of nursing associates to pursue this apprenticeship training, meaning 640 would be registrants in 2020.

Line between registered and unregistered

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) said there must be clear differentiation between the roles of nursing associate and nurse.  

The regulator's chief executive Jackie Smith said: ‘The government has always been clear that the nursing associate will be a profession in its own right and for those who want to progress to become a registered nurse, we are working closely with education providers to establish what additional training is required to meet our standards.'

Universities need details of the new places so that they can plan for the increase in numbers.

University of Worcester vice-chancellor and chief executive David Green said: ‘We very much hope these places will be released immediately. In January, the government announced that there would be 10,000 new places, but none were actually created until mid-August, when 1,500 were announced for courses starting just three weeks later.’

The conference also heard that existing NHS staff will benefit from new flexible working and 'affordable' homes developed on surplus NHS land.


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