The number of nurse training places in Wales will not increase in 2019 despite a £7m boost in government funding to support education and training for health professionals.
Figures released by the Welsh government show the number of pre-registration nurse training places will remain at a standstill in 2019-20 at a total of 1,771 places – exactly the same as in 2018-19.
“This record level of funding will support the highest ever number if training opportunities in Wales”
Numbers of student nurse places will remain static across all fields of nursing – adult, children’s, mental health and learning disability – while the number of midwifery training places will remain at 134.
Meanwhile, places on specialist nurse training courses such as health visiting, district nursing, practice nursing and school nursing will also stay the same and the number of places on return to practice scheme will remain at 140.
This is despite the fact health secretary Vaughan Gething this week announced the Welsh government would be putting a total of £114m into education and training programmes for health professionals in 2019-20.
The government said this was £7m more than in 2018-19 and the fifth consecutive year that funding for health education and training had increased.
It said the money would be used to support a range of roles including nurses, midwives and health visitors alongside medical and allied health professional jobs.
“It puts us at a standstill when we need to be growing the workforce”
This will include supporting advanced practice or extended skills training and the development of healthcare support workers with funding “directed to areas where the health system is able to derive the most benefit”.
“This record level of funding will support the highest ever number if training opportunities in Wales for health professionals,” said Mr Gething.
The establishment of a new overarching body called Health Education and Improvement Wales in October this year would mean a greater focus on addressing current and future workforce challenges, he added.
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However, the Royal College of Nursing said it was “disappointed” that the number of student nurse places had not gone up and warned this would make it harder for health boards to meet safe staffing requirements enshrined in law.
“It puts us at a standstill when we need to be growing the workforce required to meet the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016, said interim director of the RCN in Wales Helen Whyley.
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“We know there are shortages across Wales, we know district nurse numbers have fallen in the community and we know that health boards are already reporting difficulties in fulfilling the requirements of legislation.”
In 2016 Wales became the first UK nation to introduce legislation on staffing levels to protect patient care.
However, Ms Whyley said this would only mean something “if there are enough numbers of the right nurses to provide that care”.
“If the Welsh government isn’t going to increase the numbers of student place, it needs to act urgently on nursing retention rates,” she added.
Meanwhile, the RCN has called for assurances that the Welsh government will retain nursing bursaries, which have been abolished in England resulting in fewer people applying to do nursing degrees.
“In order to continue to make nursing an attractive career choice we need confirmation from Welsh government that student nurses in Wales will permanently continue to benefit from the bursary,” said Ms Whyley.