An additional 10,000 nurses, midwives and allied health professionals will be able to train at universities in England by 2020 due to extra funding for clinical placements, the government has claimed today.
As reported by Nursing Times yesterday, some of the money - that will be used to pay for learning in practice at NHS trusts and other employers - will be made available as early as next month, so that more student nurses can begin pre-registration courses this academic year.
Previously universities had warned it would not be possible to expand courses unless there was additional funding for practice placements.
Nursing Times understands more details will be confirmed next week, when many applicants will receive their exam results and universities begin filling empty spaces on their courses through the clearing process.
Overall, an extra £16.4m in placement funding has been committed to cover the 10,000 additional students up to 2020, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health told Nursing Times.
The extra funding for placements comes at the same time that bursaries for student nurses, midwives and AHPs have been removed, as a result of a controversial policy announcement at the end of 2015.
It is understood that the government is reinvesting some of the annual £1.2bn it expects to save when students begin paying for their tuition fees and costs through loans this autumn.
However, the number of people wanting to study nursing has crashed by over 20% this year, according to official figures the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, which unions said confirmed their “worst fears” about the axing of the bursary.
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But a spokeswoman for the DH highlighted that there was still almost double the number of applications this year compared with the usual nurse training places available.
“A cap on training places has meant thousands of talented students are rejected from university courses each year”
The government has always claimed that removing bursaries would eliminate the funding “cap” on the number of student nurses that universities are able to take on.
“For too long, a cap on training places has meant thousands of talented students are rejected from university courses each year despite meeting requirements for medicine or nursing,” health minister Philip Dunne said, announcing the extra placement funding.
“These students will now be able to fulfil their potential as our future NHS nurses, midwives and allied health professionals,” he added.
Today’s announcement has been welcomed by the Council of Deans of Health, which represents nursing, midwifery and AHP departments at UK universities.
“We have been working closely with the Department of Health to ensure that universities have the certainty to be able to plan to expand provision over the next three years,” said Professor Brian Webster-Henderson, chair of the Council of Deans.
“We will need to monitor applications from mature students ”
“Although universities have reported a good number of high quality applicants, we will need to monitor applications from mature students where we have seen a decline this year.
“Effective promotion of healthcare careers will be vital to ensuring that universities can recruit additional students and educate the healthcare workforce required for the future,” he added.
The funding boost for nurse placements comes as part of a wider announcement to increase the size of the medical workforce by boosting undergraduate course places.
In addition, ministers confirmed today that they would fund an additional 1,500 doctors to train every year until 2020.
Student bursary system ‘unsustainable’, claims minister
Professor Alistair Fitt, vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University and chair of Universities UK’s health policy network, said: “We welcome the government’s expansion of the number of doctors, nurses and other health professionals. This will help to meet the workforce need and to increase participation from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
“UK universities train our world class doctors, nurses and health professionals to provide leading edge care that is safe and compassionate,” he said. “These fulfilling careers, shaped in our outstanding research and learning environments, deliver enormous public value.
“We look forward to continuing to work closely with the NHS to educate the high quality health professionals of the future,” he added.
Janet Davies, Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary, said: “Any investment in training placements for nursing students is welcome news but it will do little to solve current nursing shortages.
“The health and care system desperately needs proper workforce planning,” she said. “It’s unclear where extra nursing students will come from, when the removal of student funding is putting many people off entering the profession.
“When it comes to the future supply of nurses, the government is turning off the tap – nursing degree applications have fallen sharply and the pay cap is forcing many nurses out of the job they love,” said Ms Davies.
“It’s time for ministers to face facts: they will struggle to build a strong and resilient workforce unless they lift the cap on pay and reinstate student funding,” she added.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers and deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health service organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said:
“We welcome today’s announcement from the Department of Health confirming the major long term expansion of the NHS medical workforce, and look forward to seeing these plans bear fruit in the years to come,” he said.
“Employers are making sterling efforts to recruit talented health and care staff across the board, but we also know there is growing demand for these staff, as highlighted by recent NHS vacancy figures,” said Mr Mortimer.
He added: “It will of course take some time for the full benefit of these additional staff to be felt. We look forward to working with the government to ensure an immigration system that complements domestic efforts – this will help to ensure we have the staff we need to provide first class care.”
Kevin Crimmons, associate professor and head of the department of adult nursing, school of nursing and midwifery at Birmingham City University, said: “As with all government announcements, the devil will be in the detail to follow.
“How many of these places will be for nurses, and how will they be split across the four fields of nursing? When you then spread these numbers across all of the universities and then clinical areas with an immediate requirement for trained staff, the headline figure does not appear as generous as it first appears,” he said.
“We have seen a significant downturn in the number of applicants this year, due to the removal of the bursary and introduction of tuition fees,” he said. ”The other challenge is an erosion of available placement opportunities due to the increasingly challenging environment clinical areas see themselves having to manage.
He added: “Support for attracting students into the profession and then supporting their clinical experience needs to be far more nuanced if the government has any expectations of achieving this headline target.”