Comment

Election promises don’t go far enough to remedy our nurse and student shortfalls

Funding for nurse education needs to be across the board, not robbing Peter to pay Paul
Conservative party leader Boris Johnson and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn during the live TV election debate

Funding for nurse education needs to be across the board, not robbing Peter to pay Paul

Listening to some politicians, you would be forgiven for believing that tinkering with a few nursing specialisms might be the solution our profession is after.

But the truth is, it will take much more than that.

Nursing shortages are the single biggest threat to patients, and evidence shows that where nurses are in short supply, care is worse and patients suffer.

Political rhetoric wont increase nurse training numbers

Today, there are a record number of nursing vacancies in England we are 43,000 short

...

Funding for nurse education needs to be across the board, not robbing Peter to pay Paul

Conservative party leader Boris Johnson, left, and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn during the live TV election debate
Conservative and Labour party leaders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn during the live
TV election debate Picture: ITV

Listening to some politicians, you would be forgiven for believing that tinkering with a few nursing specialisms might be the solution our profession is after.

But the truth is, it will take much more than that.

Nursing shortages are the single biggest threat to patients, and evidence shows that where nurses are in short supply, care is worse and patients suffer.

Political rhetoric won’t increase nurse training numbers

Today, there are a record number of nursing vacancies in England – we are 43,000 short of what we need to provide safe care for patients.

The government has made efforts to convince the public that ‘there are more nurses than ever’, but this ignores how much demand from patients has increased, as well as the bleak picture of just how few people are training to become nurses right now.

‘A failure to acknowledge the uniqueness of life as a nursing student saw the government cut vital financial support... a disaster that won’t just be felt today, but into the future’

Up until 2016, those wanting to study nursing were entitled to a grant to pay for their tuition fees, maintenance to support their living costs and, for those from less privileged backgrounds, further cash to make ends meet.

The understanding was that nursing students weren’t like other students. Nursing students – both former and current – know full well that supplementing your income with a second job while doing 2,300 hours of clinical placements is nigh-on impossible.

RCN members and students campaigning to bring back the bursary
The RCN’s bursary or bust campaign warned of falling nursing student numbers without
the financial support of a grant Picture: Barney Newman

Bursary removal implications were exactly as predicted

A failure to acknowledge the uniqueness of life as a nursing student saw the government cut vital financial support and force anyone wanting to become a nurse to take out a student loan.

The result was exactly as expected: applications and acceptances to study nursing are down 30% and 9% respectively. For a profession already suffering from a worsening workforce crisis, this is a disaster that won’t just be felt today, but into the future.

That’s why in this election we put nursing student funding at the top of our RCN manifesto and had it delivered to every political party.

With the nursing shortages so deep and widespread, we have made it clear that we want to see at least £1 billion in hard cash put into the higher education of thousands more nurses.

Put simply, nothing less will do if we are to rescue the profession from crisis, and drag nursing numbers up to where patients need them to be.

We need funding across the board, not just for crisis-hit specialties

But this funding needs to be wholesale and across the board, so that it touches every corner of nurse education. Additional measures might be necessary for fields in particular crisis, such as learning disability nursing, but this must not be at the expense of broad investment across all of nursing.

‘The £1 billion the RCN is demanding would be used for a mixture of tuition fee relief and maintenance grant support for all current and future nursing students’

If this doesn’t happen, we all run the risk of diverting shortages from one place to another – in other words, robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The £1 billion we are demanding would be used for a mixture of tuition fee relief and maintenance grant support, to grow the student body by 50% over five years. It would include all current and future undergraduate and postgraduate nursing students.

It must provide at least the same amount of cash in hand as the current loan system, with any shortfalls met by easy-access top-up maintenance loans. And hardship funding for those most in need is absolutely essential.

Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson
Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats Picture: Getty

What the political parties have pledged so far

Pleasingly, as we almost hit the halfway point in the election campaign, we have managed to get political parties around our table.

Labour and the Greens have backed our call to put £1 billion into nurse education. However, the Lib Dems have only pledged to target investment into fields with particular shortages, and as yet, we still wait to see what the Conservatives will offer us.

After this coming weekend when all party manifestos and the relevant details have been released, it should become clear who was listening – and who wasn’t.

Election could be a turning point for nursing, and for patients

Wherever you look in nursing, truly incredible work is being done to keep patients safe and to advance our profession.

But the truth is that this has often been done in spite of politicians and their respective governments, not because of them. I sincerely hope this election marks a point where that begins to change, and politics starts to deliver for patients, and nursing.


Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN general secretaryDame Donna Kinnair is RCN general secretary and chief executive

 

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