Training places on post-registration courses for community nurses are not being filled as quickly as expected due to problems with placement capacity and the calibre of students applying, according to the national workforce body.
Health Education England noted particular issues for practice nurses, with 40% of the 359 places it has planned for this academic year remaining unfilled so far.
“A lot of this is dependent on trust demand and placement capacity which is out of our hands”
In addition, around a quarter of the 1,193 health visitor course spaces are empty for 2015-16. This is also due to a lack of suitable applicants as well as concerns over the transfer of responsibility for health visiting training to local authorities.
According to board papers discussed this week at an HEE meeting, the organisation said it was attempting to address the problem through a variety of approaches.
“[This includes] master classes for future applicants and working with trusts to develop recruitment strategies and investment in continuing professional development,” said the board papers.
Presenting the latest figures at the meeting, Nicki Latham, HEE’s director for performance and development, stressed that the body was “confident” that student practice nurse numbers would increase by the end of the academic year.
She said: “Last year we did deliver on what we said we would do in our workforce plan.”
“[HEE is] working with trusts to develop recruitment strategies and investment in continuing professional development”
HEE board papers
“The only caveat to that at the moment is that a lot of this is dependent on trust demand and placement capacity, which is out of our hands but something we need to think about for the impact on our workforce plan for England,” she said.
However, HEE’s workforce plan for last year included around 140 less training places for practice nurses than for 2015-16.
When asked by a council member how HEE intended to increase the number of community nurses at a time when trusts – providing placements – were under considerable staffing pressures, HEE’s director of nursing Lisa Bayliss-Pratt acknowledged that it was a “challenge”.
She said there was a “bit of a myth” about placements numbers, their location and the way they operated, suggesting more students could be supported if trusts moved away from a 1:1 mentoring model.
Ms Bayliss-Pratt also said many returning nurses taking part in HEE’s Come Back campaign did so to work in the community, which should boost numbers.
She also noted problems with the way HEE defined and reported on community nurse numbers – suggesting there were many more band 5 registrants working in this setting that would not show up in the figures because they were not in a role with a title such as a health visitor.
“[The increase in numbers] is happening, but it is slow because we don’t have clear demarcations of what a community nurse is and we’ve never counted them outside of the very crude methodology that we currently use,” said Ms Bayliss-Pratt.
HEE’s workforce plan for 2016-17, including planned training places for nurses, has been delayed until early next year.
This is because of major changes to HEE’s budget announced by the governemnt in its spending review last month, which will see the current student bursary system replaced by loans.