Funding will be made available to train an extra 500 advanced nurse practitioners in Scotland over the next five years, as part of a £27m investment in clinical education and training.
The Scottish government has also pledged to retain a bursary system for student nurses, in contrast to ministers in England who plan to replace bursaries with loans from 2017.
“I am making a clear commitment that we will retain free tuition and a nursing bursary in Scotland”
In a speech on the NHS, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced £3m to train an additional 500 advanced nurse practitioners to “bolster the skills of the profession and equip nurses across Scotland to maximise their leading role in the integrated health care of the future”.
She described advanced nurse practitioners as “hugely important” via their close work with GPs and district nurses.
“They potentially have an even bigger role to play in assessing, treating and diagnosing people in the community – during the day and out of hours. By doing so, they can help to provide better primary care for individuals and tackle delayed discharge rates,” said Ms Sturgeon.
She also highlighted the “retention of a nursing and midwifery bursary”, which alongside free tuition fees would “help attract the best people”, said Ms Sturgeon – though she did not state whether the value of bursaries would change.
In addition, she announced the launch of a discretionary fund of at least £1m for nursing and midwifery students experiencing financial hardship to provide a “safety net” to help them continue their studies.
Meanwhile, the bulk of the money, a further £23m, will be allocated to increase the number of medical school places.
Speaking at Queen Margaret University in Musselburgh, Ms Sturgeon said: “We’ve already invested heavily in the health and care workforce in the last nine years. But we need to build on that success.
“That’s why we will step up our support for nurses and midwives,” she said. “The Scottish government is completely committed to retaining a nursing and midwifery bursary.
“We recognise the demands on those students, and we understand the importance of their role. So to make sure that we are well placed to attract the best young people – from all backgrounds – into the workforce, I am making a clear commitment today that we will retain free tuition and a nursing and midwifery bursary in Scotland,” said Ms Sturgeon.
“And we will take one additional step, based on what students have told us about their experiences,” she said. “In the coming year, we will introduce a discretionary hardship fund for nursing and midwifery students to provide additional support for those who need it most.
“This will help ensure future generations benefit from the unique skills that members of nursing teams bring”
Ms Sturgeon also confirmed that the first national clinical strategy would be published next week, setting out how the NHS would meet the “needs of people in Scotland in the decades to come”.
Commenting on the bursary commitment, Jon Skewes, director for policy, employment relations and communications at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “This is indeed great news for our future midwives in Scotland.”
Royal College of Nursing Scotland director Theresa Fyffe, said that Ms Sturgeon’s announcement had “demonstrated an awareness of the crucial role that today’s nurses play in delivering health services”.
“The package of measures she announced will help to ensure that future generations benefit from the unique skills and knowledge that members of nursing teams bring to health services and to their patients,” she said.
Ms Fyffe noted that the £3m to fund the training of 500 additional ANPs was “certainly to be welcomed”. “We have long campaigned for a structured development path for these highly skilled nurses, so investment in the skills and development of future ANPs is a step in the right direction,” she said.
“We also saw a commitment that the Scottish government will continue with a nursing and midwifery bursary, although there is no detail as yet on its level,” she said, adding: “Of course the launch of a discretionary fund of at least £1m for nursing and midwifery students experiencing financial hardship is something which we are really pleased to see.”