Nursing studies

Fixing the leaky bucket: investing in nurses' education and development

Against a backdrop of large-scale changes for nurses across the UK, including cutting the bursary for students in England, delegates at this year's RCN congress will discuss the impact of reducing investment in nurses' education and development.
Leaky_bucket-iStock-tile.jpg

Against a backdrop of large-scale changes for nurses across the UK, including cutting the bursary for students in England, delegates at this year's RCN congress will discuss the impact of reducing investment in nurses' education and development

Education is key to fixing 'the leaking bucket', where more nurses are leaving the profession than joining it, says a specialist RCN group.

Now the RCN's Education Forum is proposing a discussion on the impact of reducing investment in education and development for the UK's nursing workforce, which will take place at this year's RCN congress.

'It's an opportune time to have a debate, with the aim of shaping and influencing the RCN's agenda for the coming year. We want this to be a significant priority,' says forum steering

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Against a backdrop of large-scale changes for nurses across the UK, including cutting the bursary for students in England, delegates at this year's RCN congress will discuss the impact of reducing investment in nurses' education and development


Having more nurses leaving the profession than joining it has created a
'leaking bucket' scenario. Picture: iStock 

Education is key to fixing 'the leaking bucket', where more nurses are leaving the profession than joining it, says a specialist RCN group. 

Now the RCN's Education Forum is proposing a discussion on the impact of reducing investment in education and development for the UK's nursing workforce, which will take place at this year's RCN congress.

'It's an opportune time to have a debate, with the aim of shaping and influencing the RCN's agenda for the coming year. We want this to be a significant priority,' says forum steering group member Sarah Burden, who is formally proposing the matter for discussion. 

The debate is set against a backdrop of large-scale changes in England, including the cutting of bursaries for nursing students.

'The figures are already showing that applications are down by 23%,' says Ms Burden. 'This also hides something more fundamental about diversity. Those applying now are younger, with more mature students being pushed out. The current average age of nursing students is 29.'

Different priorities 

And it's not just about what's happening in pre-registration. In the last financial year, the budget for post-registration education and training in England was cut by 45%, with current resources yet to be allocated. 'Funding to support the nursing workforce in England is a real challenge now,' says Ms Burden.

But glance to the west or north of England and it's a different situation. 'In other countries of the UK, another set of priorities are being articulated, and these have real consequences,' says Ms Burden. 'Scotland in particular looks very different.'

Here, alongside a modest increase in training places for nursing students, Scotland's chief nursing officer is leading a project looking at career pathways. This includes funding for 500 advanced nurse practitioners and £2 million to support professional development for nurses working in general practices. 

'Scotland is thinking proactively about the education of the whole nursing workforce,' says Ms Burden. 'They are looking at how to make nursing a more attractive profession, with a good career structure that recruits and retains staff. Importantly, there's a good dialogue with policy makers.'

Education solution 

Wales is following a similar route, she argues. In February, a £95 million package, supporting a range of education and training programmes for healthcare professionals, was announced.

This includes increasing the number of nursing students, while bursaries have been retained for 2017-18. 'While both Wales and Scotland are beginning to develop strategies, none of these discussions are happening in England,' says Ms Burden.

Now's the time to open up a positive debate, she believes. 'We want to be constructive and say, this is what you get by putting in the funding,' says Ms Burden. 'Education can help you to deliver the right kinds of services, safely and effectively. Investment gives us people who want to be nurses and, most importantly, once we've trained them, want to stay in the profession. We will spend much more trying to recruit than develop. Education can fix the leaking bucket.'

RCN Congress 2017 will be held at the Liverpool Arena and Convention Centre from 13 to 17 May.


Lynne Pearce is a freelance health journalist 

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