Expert advice

Workforce: If the NHS is serious about keeping its nurses, it should protect CPD budgets

Money for training is too often seen as a soft target when cuts are being made

Money for training is too often seen as a soft target when cuts are being made

Picture: iStock

Everyone agrees that improving retention of NHS nurses is critical to solving the nursing shortages – the disagreement starts when questions such as ‘what works?’ and ‘who pays?’ are asked.

One major contributor to keeping nurses motivated, committed and performing effectively is to ensure they have access to continuing professional development (CPD). Continuous learning has been identified as a key success factor in Magnet hospitals, where staff turnover is low and patient satisfaction is high.

This penny-pinching is counterproductive 

Not for the first time, the NHS has succeeded in undermining its stated intention to improve and motivate staff, by penny-pinching. The NHS England CPD budget has been targeted repeatedly in recent years as a soft touch for funding cuts, with the workforce development budget of Health Education England, which pays for CPD, cut by 60% in just two years. It has fallen from £205 million in 2015-16 to £83.49 million in 2017-2018.

The other factor undermining effective CPD delivery is understaffing. There is no automatic protection for the time nurses need to undertake CPD, and where there is short-staffing, getting time away from the day job to participate in professional development becomes a real problem.

Protected time needs a safeguard in law

Funding is necessary, but so is protected time. Last month, as part of the legal and parliamentary process of considering the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill, one suggested amendment for consideration was a legal safeguard for nurses' CPD time.

If the amendment and the bill become law, employers in Scotland would have to ensure nurses have at least 35 hours of CPD every three years.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens recently pledged to reverse the raids on the CPD budget, giving a ‘personal guarantee’ to get the cuts restored ‘over the next five years’.

A sign of good intentions, but five years to repair the damage inflicted in two. And not as watertight as a legal safeguard.


James Buchan is professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

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