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Senior nurses 'concerned' parts of England now 'really struggling' with student applications


Senior nurses in England are concerned about certain regions of the country where universities are “really struggling” to attract enough applicants to nurse training, including parts of London that are “on the edge”.

One of England’s deputy chief nursing officers, Hilary Garratt, said her team at NHS England was “concerned about the fall in applications in 2017” and the “early indications of a further reduction in 2018”.

“There are areas in London where some of the courses are really on the edge”

Hilary Garratt

Official figures released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) this week showed a 13% decline in the number of applicants in England applying for pre-registration nursing courses starting from the autumn.

This is on top of a 23% reduction in applicants in 2017, meaning applicants are now down by around a third since the government in England opted to end free education for student nurses and instead switch to a loans system.

“There are some areas of the country that are really struggling more than others. And also by speciality – particularly mental health and learning disability,” said the deputy CNO.

“There are areas in London where some of the courses are really on the edge,” noted Ms Garratt, who was speaking yesterday at a nursing conference at the University of Salford.

“We always said at the beginning that this is uncharted territory. This is something we need to keep an eye on”

Hilary Garratt

She later told Nursing Times that anecdotal evidence had suggested parts of London were struggling and that it was important to analyse the UCAS data further to understand the problems.

“The concern is we don’t have enough numbers to fill the places,” she said. She highlighted that it was important to “keep an eye” on applicants to all four fields of nursing – adult, children’s, mental health, and learning disability nursing – and also the spread of those applicants across the country.

Further monitoring would help to target any additional support needed to recruit more student nurses, she added.

“We always said at the beginning that this is uncharted territory. This is something we need to keep an eye on,” said Ms Garratt, regarding the controversial replacing of bursaries with loans from 1 August 2017.

When asked what action was being taken to tackle the drop in applicants, she highlighted that workforce body Health Education England was planning a national recruitment campaign to attract more people into nursing.

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Hilary Garratt

In addition, NHS England was leading a project looking at perceptions of nursing - an issue that may be playing a part in the drop in the number of applicants, she said.

The project has attracted 11,000 responses so far and findings are expected to be presented at the chief nursing officer for England’s summit in March.

Ms Garratt was speaking on Tuesday at the Future of nursing conference, where delegates discussed how nursing profession will meet demands of Brexit, an ageing population and a dwindling workforce.


Readers' comments (9)

  • Pay these potential nursing students like apprenticeships or, do they have to be university trained. History, isn't the training in universities. Are the mature nurses working at the moment all uni trained.?

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  • I certainly wasn’t, I gained my University Diploma some 18 years after I qualified, making all the theory a doddle, because I could see it in practice. I maintain we need to go back to pre reg in-hospital training with a university bolt on.
    Scrap the skivepotential of supernumerary status and require students to pay their way and be trained for free.
    My wards were awash with students and we all learned just fine, Sister watched us like hawks, we came out ward ready, patients were looked after well. No need for preceptorship adding another 12-18months to their ‘training’. I saw this coming back in the 1980’s as did many of my colleagues.

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  • Having to pay £27,000 fees plus living expenses for 3 years just to end up working all round the clock in a physically and emotionally demanding, not particularly well paid job, is scarcely attractive to any but the most dedicated. Yes, training should be free, or better still, bursary supported--that is the minimum that will bring people back into nursing.

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  • @ANONYMOUS7 FEBRUARY, 2018 6:14 PM -
    Are you kidding? Skive potential?
    As a third year student nurse I have more often than not been used as free labour to plug the gap in the absence of adequate HCA staffing numbers and at the detriment of actually learning important aspects of the nursing role. We are not paid, essentially we are paying to work under the new scheme. Evidence shows that patients fare better under degree nurse care, however I do sense that a reformation of the traditional band 5 nursing role is underway and that the band 5 nurses will become more of a supervisory or 'senior' role, paving the way for apprentice trained APs (band 4s) to undertake a bridging role between HCA and Band 5 nurse - similar to the previous enrolled/ senior nurse model.

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  • I totally agree Hannah

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  • I am astonished, nay, GOBSMACKED that the senior nurses did not see this coming! Where were they when the government put forward their plan to remove the bursary? This could have been avoided if all senior nurses in UK had petitioned the government at that time and carried on petitioning until someone saw sense.
    To Hannah, it may well be that patients fare better under degree nurse care, although I suggest that is open to debate as evidence is only as good as the research which pre-empted it. It is not debatable, however, that patients fare badly under significantly reduced staffing levels.

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  • I remember the"good old days" of learning on the job from sisters who "watched us like hawks". It was not the rosy picture that is still so often portrayed by nurses and ex-nurses of a certain age. I went from ward to ward in my training being given contradictory instructions by successive ward sisters on aspects of care which, while well-meaning, were certainly not not evidence based! I cringe at some of the things I was told to do (and you certainly didn't question anything sister said!) I remember a fellow-student asking a sensible question and being told, in all seriousness, "you don't need to know that". I remember a ward sister on a medical ward who boasted that she never read a text book or journal - she also couldn't read an ECG trace which was scary as she had 3 coronary care beds on her ward! Yes, nurses were caring (on the whole) and well-intentioned, but the world has moved on, care has become much more complex and unless nursing moves with the times we have no hope of being able to deliver the care our patients deserve. Nurses can be, and are, both caring and highly educated - these attributes are not mutually exclusive as some seem to believe.
    Staffing levels is another matter altogether - yes, we need sufficient nurses to do the job but compromising the quality of nurse education is no more acceptable than reducing doctors' education levels to make them more affordable. University-level education is now the norm for professionals, both within and outside the health service, so why should it be deemed acceptable for nursing to have lower standards - or do those promoting lower-level qualifications for nurses really consider that nursing is a second class profession?

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  • Completely agree with the above comment. I too trained in days gone by, when bullying of student nurses was considered part of the job and you asked questions at your peril. I learned an incredible amount but it has to be said, much of that was in the classroom; as a student who was part of the workforce, I was invariably too busy to stop and ask questions of anyone, so much of what I learned, I learned post qualification. As a first year student, I 'specialled' patients on ventilators on the ward with no idea what I was doing; no such thing as ITU's in cottage hospitals. We need a compromise, where student nurses are provided with the practical skills they need to be effective carers, together with nurse education that embraces the standard of education they are required to achieve. Currently, nurse education is failing students, who come out of training without the practical skills required to do the job. A degree in nursing is a wonderful achievement but it seems the necessary, practical aspects of nurse training have been sacrificed on the alter of academia.

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  • No wonder the hierarchy are concerned. Their salaries are going to come under pressure, like this: as the number of people entering the "profession" falls, the income from registration and renewal fees will fall. The hierarchy's extremely generous pay will need to be paid for by even higher fees from those poor souls still working in nursing. The job will become more unattractive. A vicious circle, methinks.

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