Groups representing mental health, learning disability and district nurses have cautiously welcomed the announcement of grants for postgraduates but have asked the government for more details.
In particular, nurse leaders have called on the government to set out when the money will be made available to individuals.
“Whilst we cautiously welcome this promised £9.1m package we would ask that you clarify the following issues as a matter of urgency”
Ministers revealed earlier this week that postgraduates choosing to study parts of nursing with the worst recruitment difficulties would be offered “golden hellos” worth £10,000.
Those studying mental health, learning disability, and district nursing were highlighted by the government as being in line for the new targeted support package worth around £9m.
Unusually, the policy was unveiled by health minister Stephen Barclay in the middle of a debate in the House of Commons, rather than via a written statement or speech.
An outline of the support package was announced on Wednesday during a debate on government plans to extend the scrapping of the bursary for student nurses in England to postgraduates.
“I would also ask that you reconsider your disastrous policy to cut student bursaries from across the NHS”
In a letter to Mr Barclay, Unite’s lead professional officer for mental health, Dave Munday, called for urgent clarification on the details surrounding the new policy.
Mr Munday noted that his union, which includes the Mental Health Nurses Association, had previously highlighted that scrapping the bursary would have a “disproportionate effect” on both mental health and learning disability nursing.
He cited latest NHS Digital figures showing that mental health nurses working in the NHS had fallen by 4,447 (11%) since 2010.
The figures for learning disability nursing cuts are “even more concerning”, with 2,018 (38%) gone since 2010, he warned in the letter, shared with Nursing Times.
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Regarding the new grants, Mr Munday said: “Whilst we cautiously welcome this promised £9.1m package we would ask that you clarify the [following issues] as a matter of urgency.”
He asked when the “golden hellos” would be made available to individuals and whether they would be available in “good time” to enable students starting courses in 2018-19 to take advantage.
“It is particularly pleasing to see the recognition that district nurse education requires investment”
He also queried whether the money would be available in “good time to influence those that have discounted starting their nurse education in 2018 to change their minds”.
In addition, Mr Munday asked how the £9.1m would be divided across the three specialities that were mentioned in the announcement – mental health, learning disabilities and district nursing.
Meanwhile, he questioned whether funding would potentially be extended to other groups that have seen significant cuts in their number over recent years, such as health visitors.
Lastly, he asked the minister if an equality impact assessment had been carried out to ensure that the new golden hellos “do not disadvantage” any nursing group.–
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“We look forward to your response to our questions,” he said. “I would also ask that you reconsider your disastrous policy to cut student bursaries from across the NHS.
“As a nation, we will pay heavily, both in financial and health terms, for a long time if this is not reversed,” he added.
Meanwhile, Dr Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, said she was “delighted” by the announcement of the new grants for some postgraduate students.
“Urgent action on nurse recruitment is needed, in response to multiple challenges facing the current workforce and the need to train more nurses to meet growing patient need,” she said.
“It is particularly pleasing to see the recognition that district nurse education requires investment to enable nurses to undertake the specialist programme,” said Dr Oldman in a statement.
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“One of the reasons nurses say they do not consider training as a district nurse is that they simply cannot afford to – now there may be an opportunity to offset the considerable cost to the individual nurse – depending on how the new funding is applied,” she noted.
Dr Oldham highlighted that, at a time when far more care needed to be delivered in the home and community, numbers of district nurses had declined by more than 43% over the last eight years.
“This announcement may be the catalyst for a strategic discussion on the number of district nurses that we will need in the near future,” she said.
She added: “The QNI undertakes its own audit of district nurse education programmes at universities throughout the UK every year and our next audit, for the previous academic year, will be published in the summer.”