Nursing Standard podcast: ‘Workforce planning is not a game of chess, Jeremy Hunt’

Nurse workforce planning is ‘more than a game of chess’, the RCN has warned health secretary Jeremy Hunt in the first-ever Nursing Standard podcast.

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Speaking exclusively to the Nursing Standard podcast, RCN director of nursing, policy, and practice Dame Donna Kinnair cautiously welcomed Mr Hunt’s announcement last week of a 25% increase in nursing student places in England.

But she added that she fears the government is not listening to the RCN about appropriate recruitment.

Mr Hunt’s announcement followed a major survey of more than 30,000 RCN members that reveals nurses are being left sick, burned out and ‘sobbing’ due to staff shortages.

More than half (55%) of those who took part in the RCN survey said shifts do not have the planned levels of nurse staffing, and 53% warned staff shortages are compromising care. Some warned that, because of shortages, patients sometimes are not afforded enough dignity and even die alone.

On the same day the RCN survey was published Mr Hunt tweeted that there has been an increase of 11,300 nurses since May 2010.


Professor Kinnair said: ‘His increase hasn’t got us back to pre-2010 standards.

‘We have lost a number of nurses from other settings. We know that while he has focused on putting nurses in the acute sector, we have lost a shed load of nurses from the community sector.

‘This means, as our survey shows, nurses right across the system are under pressure.

‘We haven’t trained enough nurses. We are playing chessboard games, moving one set of nurses to another place.

‘If we think about the support workers that we bring in and call nursing associates, he has just robbed them from the healthcare support workers.

'I would say to Jeremy Hunt that the RCN has warned you that this game of chess you are playing doesn’t work.’

Professor Kinnair also warned that it is not for politicians to decide how nurses are educated.


In the past two years, the government has introduced a number of new routes into nursing in England to operate alongside the undergraduate nursing degree.

These routes include the nursing degree apprentice role, which was unveiled in November last year. The role is intended to help healthcare assistants and others to train to become registered nurses while getting paid.

In March, Nurse First, a two year, fast-track programme for recruiting high-achieving graduates into a career in nursing was announced.

Meanwhile, the nursing associate programme that started in late 2016 is intended to bridge the gap between healthcare assistants and registered nurses. 

‘Ministerial intervention has created a hodgepodge of nurse training places that I think the public will have difficulty understanding.’ Professor Kinnair added.

‘If I was a prospective student wanting to train, do I become a nursing associate or do I become a nursing apprentice? What method would I use to become a graduate nurse of the future?’

Professor Kinnair wants to see a standardised pathway introduced that can be easily regulated.

‘What I would say to Jeremy Hunt is “leave it to those in the know to define that pathway for nurses”. Whether you come in as an apprentice, associate or graduate nurse, we need one pathway with different step-off points so that we are sure where people are in their training.’


During the interview with Professor Kinnair, it is said on the podcast that Mr Hunt announced 5,000 new apprenticeships, it should have been 5,500 nursing associate training places.

Hear the full interview on the Nursing Standard podcast available here or itunes. The podcast also includes news discussion and a segment with Nursing Older People editor Lisa Berry on providing meaningful activities for care home residents and other clients or patients.

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