Tackling the nursing shortage: recruitment or retention?

A new fast-track nursing scheme will be piloted from September, but is this the right approach to tackling the workforce shortage, or should the NHS focus on keeping the staff it has?

Becoming a nurse used to be pretty straightforward. The vast majority of potential recruits applied to their local nursing school, learned on the job, qualified after three years and started work straightaway.

Now there is a proliferation of routes into the profession, the latest being a fast-track scheme for graduates from related disciplines, such as social sciences or psychology.

Announced by England's chief nurse, the Nurse First scheme will be piloted in three areas from September, and will initially focus on recruiting for mental health and learning disability courses.

Flexible hours, fairer pay

The RCN has welcomed the announcement and there is no reason to do otherwise: we need to attract as many new recruits to nursing as possible, given the ongoing shortage. But wouldn't it be more refreshing to have a national drive to improve staff retention, rather than focusing all the time on recruitment?

That would mean helping staff to work more flexible hours, so that they are less likely to be lured into agency work, which only ends up costing the NHS more in the long run.

It would mean improving staffing levels so that service users receive the care they deserve.

And it would mean giving nurses and others in the wider multi-disciplinary team a pay rise that keeps pace with the cost of living, not another 1% increase that means health service staff are worse off than they were a year ago.

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