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Action over staffing 'needed to deliver new education plans'

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Unions have called for nurses to “make their views heard” about major changes to UK nurse education, while also warning the plans could be compromised if the government fails to tackle staffing shortages.

They were responding to the Nursing and Midwifery Council yesterday launching the first section of a two-part consultation on its plans to overahaul education for nurses.

“There needs to be sufficient numbers of qualified staff to supervise students”

Sarah Carpenter

Unite noted there was currently an estimated shortage of around 30,000 nurses in England alone, while also highlighting recent figures showing a 96% drop in European Union nurses coming to work in the UK.

It said the NMC’s proposals for pre-registration training – which the regulator has described as “radical” and designed to “raise the bar” of practice – required sufficient staff in post to support students with their learning.

The plans include more training on prescribing theory, a requirement for all students – regardless of their field of practice – to be competent in an extensive list of technical skills, and a new system of mentoring that will likely see more staff being supervisors.

The union called on the government to take action and improve nurse recruitment and retention, by improving pay for NHS staff and reinstating bursaries for student nurses in England.

“We are encouraging our members to proactively engage with the NMC consultation on new education standards and make their views heard,” said Unite’s national officer for health Sarah Carpenter.

“However, if you look at the bigger picture, there is a perfect storm on the horizon affecting the recruitment and retention of nurses across the UK,” she warned.

“The fact that in England there is an estimated shortage of 30,000 nurses is not helped by years of harsh pay restraint in the public sector and the ending of nursing bursaries later this summer,” said Ms Carpenter.

“We want people to join the nursing profession, but that is not going to happen in the numbers required, unless the government takes constructive steps to stop taking our dedicated and hardworking nurses for granted,” she added.

“This [the NMC’s education proposals] is an important issue and [nurses’] feedback is crucial”


“There needs to be sufficient numbers of qualified staff to supervise students and, if the government is serious about wanting to reform nursing to improve quality and safety, it should address this issue as well,” said Ms Carpenter.

Fellow union Unison also said it was “crucial” that nurses put forward their views on the plans.

“It’s vital that nurse training matches the reality of working in today’s NHS,” said Unison’s new head of health Sara Gorton.

“We’ve already started talking to nursing staff to find out what they think of the NMC’s plans,” she said. “This is an important issue and their feedback is crucial.”

The Royal College of Nursing said the new standards represented an “exciting opportunity” to ensure education was fit for the future.

”The registered nurse’s role has changed to such an extent that we need a curriculum that reflects the new reality of the job. The RCN is consulting its members to make sure we can offer informed and useful feedback,” said Ann Corrin, head of education at the RCN.

“We need a new generation of skilled and flexible nurses, ready to play an effective role as soon as they join the register. We need nurses with the skills and knowledge to support people’s health and wellbeing and we need to develop nursing leadership for the future,” she added.

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