A nurse-turned-MP will call on the government to reinstate bursaries for nursing students during a debate in parliament this week.
Labour’s Eleanor Smith, who was elected in June 2017, told Nursing Times she feared nursing was reaching “crisis moment”.
“At the moment, I think we would say that the nursing sector is hitting crisis moment”
The former theatre nurse is leading a debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday entitled “investing in nursing higher education in England” with backing from the Royal College of Nursing.
MPs in the chamber are expected to hear about some of the challenges of taking on a nursing degree following the removal of the bursary in August 2017.
Ms Smith, who is MP for Wolverhampton South West, told Nursing Times: “At the moment, I think we would say that the nursing sector is hitting crisis moment. Unless something changes it will get worse.
“The nurses that are working at the moment are working harder and they are being pushed to the brink,” she said. “Morale is absolutely down because of it.
“We are asking [the government] what they are going to do about it,” she stated.
Ms Smith will demand that the upcoming NHS long-term plan, due to be released next month, include measures to address the nursing workforce gaps.
Latest figures show there are almost 42,000 vacant nurse posts across the NHS in England and Ms Smith said without action this could hit 48,000 by 2023.
Ms Smith ended her 40-year career as a nurse last year to enter politics with the ambition of “saving the NHS”.
In an interview with Nursing Times shortly after her election, she described pay restraint for nurses and other NHS staff that had lasted for seven years until this year as an “insult” to the profession.
Meanwhile, her daughter has just qualified as a nurse.
Ms Smith, who is parliamentary private secretary to the shadow home affairs team, and vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on adult and childhood obesity, will also use the debate to highlight the important role nurses play in the NHS.
She said: “Not only do we do nursing, we do diagnostics, we do prescribing, we actually perform surgery, we are creating care plans, delivering treatment, overseeing clinics, and managing hospitals, we do all that, and you need nurses with a higher education to be able to fulfil that duty.”
The RCN has been encouraging students to contact their MP and ask them to attend the debate and speak on their behalf.
Since the bursary was scrapped in England, applications to study nursing are down by a third and there have been 1,800 fewer people accepted onto nursing degree courses.
The college has been raising awareness of the difficulties faced by many nursing students as part of its new Fund Our Future campaign, which is calling for the government to put at least £1bn a year back into nursing higher education in England.