Health Education England’s chief executive has warned that it would be up to trusts and universities to fund any expansion of nurse training places in 2018.
“[HEE hasn’t] got any more money. We are continuing to fund the number of placements that we fund at the moment,” said Professor Ian Cumming in an interview last week.
“I know some universities are already planning expansions next year”
He was asked about the situation since the government’s announcement to end the cap on nurse training places by switching from bursaries to student loans.
Echoing comments made at an HEE meeting in October, Professor Cumming said he was aware of universities planning up to a 25% increase in adult nurse training places, while another was looking to double the number of physiotherapist places.
However, he warned HEE had a “flat cash” level to fund placements within the NHS – with this money used to incentivise and support vulnerable courses and regions that struggle to attract students.
He said HEE would allow a “year of stability for 2017-18” but decisions will be made by June 2017 for 2018-19.
He added: “I know some universities are already planning expansions next year, but for the expansions they are planning the funding for placements won’t be coming from us.
“It will either be a deal with the NHS or using money from another source,” he told Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal. He said he did not expect a fall in student numbers.
“I would be surprised if we see a reduction, I just don’t think that will happen,” he said. “I would expect to see a moderate increase in 2018 in the overall number of places compared to what we were able to afford to commission in years gone by.
“I don’t think it will be a huge jump in that one year, I think universities will want to see what the response of students is to the market,” he added.
Professor Cumming also defended the new nurse associate role, saying by the time the first cohort qualify in 2019 the demand and supply of nurses to the NHS would be “in equilibrium” so associates would not be substitutes for qualified nurses.
He said developing the role was never about substituting for degree level, registered nurses.
He said: “We have an awful lot of very competent, very skilled healthcare support workers who for whatever reason didn’t have the opportunity or right grades to go to university and get a degree but they have got absolutely the right values, the right behaviours and commitment to the NHS.
“We want to give them the opportunity to progress in their career to nursing associate or through to degree level nurse while working for the NHS,” said Professor Cumming.
He said it was not for HEE to determine the skill mix on individual wards.
But when asked what the safeguard was against trusts using associates instead of nurses, he said: “The CQC. It is the board’s responsibility but we have a quality regulator whose role is to ensure minimum standards are not compromised.”
Meanwhile, he also said that providing enough junior doctors to staff hospital rotas seven days a week was not the primary role of HEE.
The shortage of junior doctors on some hospital rotas was a “service delivery issue” involving a lack of non-training doctors, he said, while HEE’s role is ensuring there are enough trainee doctors to provide the future consultant and GP workforce without creating oversupply.