‘Politics first, strategy later’ fails in workforce planning

Short-sighted priorities mean the government hasn’t moved beyond makeshift efforts to boost nurse numbers in England, writes editor Graham Scott

The government’s shambolic approach to planning the nursing workforce in England has been laid bare again, although this time a positive spin can be put on its ham-fisted attempt to address the crisis.

Out of the blue it released funding to allow universities to offer additional places on nursing degree courses, some that start this autumn, others in early 2018.


The number of places filled at such short notice remains to be seen, but it’s more likely to be in the hundreds than the thousands. That’s better than nothing, although it assumes that universities have the capacity.

Filling a few extra rows of seats at the back of a lecture theatre may be straightforward, but there is a shortage of high-quality placements already, especially in settings other than NHS hospitals. Universities have to plan their own workforce needs too, of course.

Slow start

Another plank in the government’s makeshift raft of measures to increase nurse numbers is its plan to train 1,000 nurse apprentices a year.

To say the scheme has got off to a slow start would be an understatement: an investigation by Nursing Standard has revealed that there will be only 30 on the first course, which starts next month.

That is not a misprint.

This is no way to plan the most important part of the healthcare workforce, and ministers should be ashamed that it has come to this. Decisions continue to be taken based on short-term political and financial priorities when a longer-term, strategic view is desperately needed.