So surprise, surprise, the government’s plan to make all would-be nurses spend a year working as a healthcare assistant before entering a nursing course is proving a costly experiment.
Our story on page 2 reveals the pilot for just 165 potential students is costing around £11,000 a head. If that was scaled up across the nearly 20,000 students expected to start their training this year, it would cost the NHS £225m.
So let’s just get this straight. The government can’t afford to give all nurses even a 1% pay rise - in effect cutting their salaries every year. And yet it does have money to spend on schemes that are unproven, untested and likely to be unworkable on a larger scale.
Health Education England’s response that the “cost-neutral” plan “doesn’t mean no cost” is laughable. The organisation suggests there may be other benefits - in terms of recruitment and retention. There would have to be some mighty advantages to outweigh the £225m price tag.
The government can’t afford to give nurses more than a 1% pay rise. And yet it does have money to spend on schemes that are unproven, untested and may be unworkable
When the government announced the scheme last year, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing Peter Carter said the idea had “more holes than Swiss cheese”. Perhaps the government should have heeded his words. Because it’s proving to be also pretty expensive Swiss cheese.
It’s a fantastic idea to ensure that students have hands-on experience of clinical care before they start their training. But most universities already look for that sort of interest, knowledge and enthusiasm in potential students. Does the government really need to formalise it such an extravagant way?
HEE suggests the scheme may reduce university attrition rates but that has yet to be proved. And I suspect lots of factors make drop-out high. Since student nurses tend to be a bit older than most undergraduates, cost, family commitments and time pressures will all play their part. So I’d imagine adding a year’s work experience will make attrition over the four years higher rather than lower.
I doubt very much attrition rates are high because nurses suddenly realise that they will have to touch patients and clear up some bodily fluids. In most cases, it is time spent with patients that is the very reason that nurses choose the profession.
The government is doing this because it wants to show it’s placing emphasis on compassion in nursing. Well compassion cuts both ways. How about paying nurses a decent wage instead of wasting money on flights of fancy that seem to bring nothing but cost at a time when we are constantly told the NHS can ill afford to do anything?
Jenni Middleton, editor
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed