If you want to see a nursing profession that is valued, it’s here in Scotland

Nursing in Scotland has stepped back from the edge of crisis, says the RCN’s Theresa Fyffe

Nursing in Scotland has stepped back from the edge of crisis, says the RCN’s Theresa Fyffe

The bursary for nursing students in Scotland will rise to £10,000 a year by 2020-21.
Picture: Alamy

The latest figures on university applications are good news for Scotland: a rise of 9% overall and 8% for mature students. In fact, numbers across the UK were up – albeit in England not to the historic levels seen before the bursary was dropped.

The increase got me thinking about the picture in Scotland now. Many people, in spite of the constant messages about increased stress for staff and the dangers of burnout, still put themselves forward for nursing education.

This desire to join the profession, expressed by thousands, delights me. Nursing can be a hugely rewarding career, but it is no secret that, in recent years, political decisions and increasing burdens on health services have taken the profession to the edge of crisis.

More than warm words from politicians

I say to the edge of because in Scotland there has been a shift in the fortunes of nursing. The Scottish Government has shown a greater willingness than its UK counterpart to work with the profession.

Likewise, members of the Scottish parliament from across the political spectrum engage with the RCN and are willing to take its advice and act as advocates for its members and the wider nursing profession.

It isn’t always easy, but it feels as though the tide is turning. Whether someone is thinking of joining the profession or they are already part of it, whether they were born in Scotland or now call the country home, there is something on offer for them. Something more than warm words from politicians to show that they – and nursing – are valued.

For students, Scotland’s first minister announced in autumn 2018 a phased increase to the nursing and midwifery bursary that will take it to £10,000 a year by the 2020-21 academic year.

‘The revised bursary sends a clear message to those aspiring to be nurses that they are worth investing in’

Until then, the Scottish Government’s policy of resisting tuition fees, linked with a commitment to keep the nursing and midwifery bursary, had meant that Scotland did not see the drop in numbers applying to study nursing that was recorded in England. But the size of the bursary, at £6,578, was putting pressure on students, who were seriously struggling to make ends meet and resorting to debt to fill the gap.

The financial investment shown in the revised bursary is important. It sends a clear message to those aspiring to be nurses that as individuals, and as a profession, they are worth investing in.

Hot on the heels of the bursary announcement came a new initiative on mentoring. Experienced nurses who have just retired will be employed to better support newly registered staff. This network of support will, I hope, help to share learning across the professional generations.

It has the potential to boost retention by giving newly qualified nurses more support and resilience, and also fulfils the desire of many nurses to share their knowledge and experience for the good of patients and the profession.

A milestone on staffing levels

The Scottish Government has a clear narrative on supporting health professionals who are from the EU and further afield, but who call Scotland home. But again, it’s not words alone. Prior to the UK government’s announcement on abolishing settled status fees for EU nationals, the Scottish Government had already said it would refund the £65 fee to anyone who was applying and who worked in the NHS.

Finally, the Scottish Government’s willingness to introduce legislation on staffing levels to safeguard patient safety should not be missed as a milestone in the relationship with the nursing profession. The legislation put forward is not perfect, but it gives an indication of the political will to improve staffing for patients and health professionals alike.

Scotland does not have all the answers but there is a central thread here: making individuals and the profession feel valued.


Theresa Fyffe is RCN Scotland director

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