Expert advice

Workforce: Puzzling over the failure to scale up nurse education

England’s failure to increase its training of new nurses shows the profession has lost out in terms of national policy and funding

England’s failure to increase its training of new nurses shows the profession has lost out in terms of national policy and funding


Picture: iStock

Which would you like first – the good news or the bad news?

The negative is that fewer nursing students have been accepted into pre-registration education in England this year than last. The ‘positive’? There has been a government promise of a 25% increase in the intake of medical students this year.

This begs an obvious question. Given an NHS nurse vacancy rate as high as one in eight posts, an ageing nursing workforce and a collapse in the inflow of nurses from the European Union, why is England not increasing its training of new nurses?

Comparing medicine and nursing

A second question emerges when you compare the very different situation of medicine and nursing. How come an austerity-ridden country can find the funds to underpin a massive upscale in medical workforce numbers, but cannot intervene on nursing numbers?

Without getting too far into inter-professional comparisons and assessing the relative status and political influence of medicine and nursing, it is clear that nursing has lost out in terms of national policy consideration and funding allocation.

In this broader perspective, it is critical not to focus too narrowly on the impact of the shift from a bursary to loan funding model for nursing education in England. Although this has certainly contributed to a decline in applicants to pre-registration nurse education, notably from more mature potential entrants, there remain more applicants than available training places.

Unable to deliver

It is worth remembering that the Council of Deans of Health, which represents schools of nursing, lobbied for this change. But they do not seem to have been able to deliver, as yet, any of the promised increase in nursing student numbers.

The point is that the capacity to scale up education has not been increased, which is in part about funding for tutor numbers and improved clinical placements. Data from the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show that the UK is graduating about half as many nursing students per capita as Australia or the US. This is not good news.


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

 

 

More from James Buchan

This article is for subscribers only

Jobs