Problems recruiting registrants onto health visiting, school nursing and district nursing courses in England have continued this academic year, with universities seeing up to a quarter of training places left unfilled in the first part of 2016-17, according to official figures.
The ongoing difficulties have prompted Health Education England to set up a review of the way community nurses are trained and how course places are commissioned, in collaboration with fellow government arms’-length body Public Health England.
“HEE has acknowledged that there are on-going issues with recruitment to specialist post-registration training places”
HEE board papers
Figures produced by the national workforce planning body suggest that health visiting courses have seen the biggest shortfall, with 25% fewer students taken on than planned in the three months up until September.
Just 496 nurses started on these programmes out of the 630 spaces available for the autumn term, according to HEE board papers published last month.
Historic trends show it is unlikely health visiting courses will bring in vastly more students before the end of 2016-17, meaning it will probably fall 24% short of its target to train a total of 817 by the summer, said the board papers.
Meanwhile, HEE expects 22% fewer registrants than planned to have enrolled on school nursing courses by the end of the academic year, leaving 63 training places empty.
Universities will also fail to recruit enough people onto district nursing courses by the end of 2016-17, according to HEE’s projections, which show an expected 17% – or 86 – course places to be unfilled.
“Key to getting the numbers right for health visitors and school and district nurses is understanding the approaches employers are taking”
However, HEE’s board papers suggest practice nursing courses are expected to attract more registrants than planned by the end of the year, but do not include supporting figures. Nursing Times has requested this data from HEE.
“HEE has acknowledged that there are on-going issues with recruitment to specialist post-registration training places and has identified the need for new models of training to develop the community workforce,” said the board papers.
The figures reflect similar problems last year when almost a third of school nursing course places, 15% of health visitor training spaces and 12% of district nursing course places were unfilled by the end of 2015-16.
Previously, HEE has noted concerns that the commissioning of health visiting and school nursing services being transferred from the NHS over to local authorities is one of the reasons for shortfalls.
At the latest HEE board meeting on 13 December, the body’s executive director of performance and development, Nicki Latham said local workforce teams were working hard to improve recruitment to post-registration programmes, but acknowledged that it was a “really challenging context”.
Referring to school nursing and district nursing in particular, Ms Latham said: “We need to go back and look at what we mean by community nursing. At the moment we’ve stuck to a historical way of commissioning.”
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HEE’s director of nursing Lisa Bayliss-Pratt later told the board: “We agreed last week at our executive to a joint piece of work with my counterpart in Public Health England, [director of nursing] Professor Viv Bennett, to have a conversation around what is the future of community nursing.
“Because, apart from the health visiting workforce – which has had a lot of investment, in terms of its growth – these figures have looked the same ever since HEE has been in existence,” she said.
“Learning disability is the other area that we are going to do a similar thing with next year to see what the future model will look like,” she added.
In a statement later provided to Nursing Times, Professor Bayliss-Pratt said: “Key to getting the numbers right for health visitors and school and district nurses is understanding the needs of local people and the approaches employers are taking, including staff numbers and specialties, to meet demand from their ever-changing local populations.
“We are working closely with employers to deal with recruitment challenges, including a piece of work with Public Health England and other relevant bodies to explore the reasons why the post registration community nursing education places offered locally do not appear to be taken up,” she said.