Parents are already advising their children not to study nursing as a consequence of the government’s plans to move from bursaries to loans, according to a leading community nurse.
The Queen’s Nursing Institute chief executive also said she thought the education funding reforms would have a disproportionately negative impact on primary care due to the older age of its nurses.
“At best, we will fill the classrooms with 18-year-old school leavers”
Dr Crystal Oldman issued the warning at a conference yesterday, where GPs repeatedly raised concerns about the impact of ending bursaries on the nurse workforce.
As reported by Nursing Times, the government announced plans to move from bursaries to loans in the autumn and launched a consultation earlier this month on the controversial policy.
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Dr Oldman was asked how she thought moving to a loans-based system would affect being able to “attract students into nursing and grow the workforce”.
One doctor stated: “One of the most important things is the issue of attracting and retaining nurses and healthcare assistants. If we don’t do that we won’t survive as GP.”
“There is going to be a disproportionate effect in community and primary care”
In response, Dr Oldman told the GPs that she had recently attended a careers evening at her former secondary school, where she was advising parents and pupils on the healthcare professions.
She said the question of student nurse bursaries “came up again and again” in conversations with families whose children were in their first year of A-level and would be the first group required to pay tuition fees from September 2017.
She told the Londonwide Local Medical Committees annual conference that parents were being put off by the combination of loan debts and low pay.
“Last night, there were a lot of parents who were saying: ‘I don’t want my daughter or son to go into nursing anymore because, yes, I understand the equity with other professions, but actually the potential to earn later is not as great as the other professions’,” she said.
Workload burden worse for London’s practice nurses
She noted that studying nursing took around 42 weeks plus a year, providing “very little opportunity to undertake bar work or pat-time work as you go through your programme”.
Dr Oldman also predicted that the move to a loans-based system would change the age profile of student nursing cohorts, noting the current average was 28-29 years.
“At best, we will fill the classrooms with 18-year-old school leavers and, at worst, we’ll have empty seats.
“The people that we will be missing out on are those mature students,” she said. “You will know that you recruit to your practices those who have had life experience or a previous career – they tend to be a bit older – and those are the ones who are not going to be coming into nursing anymore.”
“I think, using that logic, that there is going to be a disproportionate effect in community and primary care,” she added.
Dr Jackie Appleby, chair of Tower Hamlets LMC and a GP at the Tredegar Practice, highlighted that some student nurses were already mounting a “very vibrant campaign” to protect the bursary.
“I urge everyone here to get behind that campaign in the way that GPs and everyone has got behind the junior doctors,” she told delegates.
“It’s a no-brainer, we have to support undergraduate and postgraduate training for nurses in our practices”
Dr Robbie Bunt, chair of Islington LMC and a GP at the River Place Group Practice, also warned about the problem of providing primary care placements to student nurses and postgraduate trainees.
“I’ve tried to negotiate this locally for my GPs – there is no funding available,” he said.
Dr Bunt said there was a “real cost” from providing placements, in terms of giving time and advice that was not currently recognised.
He said doctors should be campaigning for a scheme like that for GP registrars where placements were funded, with paid nurse trainers brought in to do the job.
“It’s a no-brainer, we have to support undergraduate and postgraduate training for nurses in our practices but we need some money to do that,” he said.
Dr Oldman had previously addressed the conference at the Emirates Football Stadium on the findings of a QNI review into the practice nurse workforce in London.