Education funding reforms that will see the removal of bursaries and a switch to loans for student nurses will help to tackle both problems with placements and difficulties in recruiting nurses to certain parts of the country, the care minister has told Nursing Times.
Some critics have suggested that the increase in student nurses predicted by the government as a result of its reforms will not be possible due to there already being a lack of clinical placements for current trainees.
In an interview with Nursing Times, Ben Gummer said he had already had “lengthy discussions” with the Council of Deans of Health and Universities UK about how the quantity and quality of nurse placements could be increased.
When asked how the government would pay for a boost in placements to accompany an expected rise in course places, Mr Gummer said he “remained open-minded” about the way money was allocated to nurse placement providers, suggesting there could be a review of the current process in the future.
He said he wanted to use responses from the recently-launched consultation on scrapping student bursaries to inform changes to placement funding.
“We all agree that we need to increase the numbers of nurses in training, which means the numbers of placements need to go up”
However, he was unable to say whether there were plans to increase the overall budget of the body responsible for allocating that money – Health Education England – to trainee doctors, nurses and other non-medical students, or if existing funds would be re-allocated between those groups.
“I have asked an open question [in the bursary consultation] about how we can achieve this end. The same end we all agree – that we need to increase the numbers of nurses in training, which means the numbers of placements need to go up. It also means we need to improve the quality and variety of training placements,” he said.
“The precise allocation of funds within HEE for nurse training is still to be determined. That’s partly because we want to get the final detail right around this consultation,” he added.
Figures from a recent NHS workforce report by the National Audit Office show that within the section of HEE’s budget earmarked for training places and placements – £4.3bn – around 60% is spent on medical and dental students, while the rest is spent on other clinical students.
Meanwhile, Mr Gummer also said the move to a loans system provided a “good opportunity” to deal with “historic problems” in recruiting nurses and midwives to certain parts of the country and workforce.
He said the nursing sector should look to other industries, both public and private, for ways to deal with regional inequalities in the way workers are distributed.
He pointed to Teach First – a government-funded national programme that targets people with high grades to train as teachers and work in deprived areas – as a an example of good practice.
“I’m not talking about a precise copy of that [programme] but it’s the principles enshrined in it. How do we get the best people to go to the most difficult jobs, how do we make sure they’re not going to the most obvious areas? How are we spreading talent and quality around the whole country?,” he said.
Nursing Times asked why the government consultation on replacing bursaries with loans had not asked respondents directly to state whether they agreed with the proposal or not.
Mr Gummer argued that it was not the normal procedure, saying: “The point about consultation is you consult on the principle of the policy.”
“The principle is established – one that’s been announced in parliament and one being pursued by a democratically elected government – and what we are now doing is to make sure how the principle can be made practice as well as possible,” he said.
“I’m well aware – and people are perfectly free to come back in their response to say: ‘I don’t agree with what you’re doing’ – but what I do want people to say is, how do we do this so it improves the numbers of nurses in training,” he added.