Postgraduates choosing to study areas of nursing with the worst recruitment difficulties will be offered “golden hellos” worth £10,000, in a move designed to mitigate losing the bursary.
Those studying mental health, learning disability, and district nursing were highlighted by the government as being in line for the new targeted support package worth around £9m.
“We intend to offer £10,000 golden hellos to postgraduate students in specific hard-to-recruit disciplines”
In addition, students in parts of the country facing particular recruitment problems regarding nurses in these specialities could receive more than £10,000, the government has indicated.
It follows growing concerns in recent days that courses for learning disability nursing are facing a fall in applications that is putting many at risk of closure, as revealed exclusively by Nursing Times.
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The support package was announced late on Wednesday during a debate on the government’s plans to extend the scrapping of the bursary for student nurses in England to postgraduates.
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Undergraduate students stopped receiving bursaries from August 2017, but postgraduate trainees have continued to have their costs covered under transitional arrangements this academic year.
But in February, ministers revealed plans that, from August 2018, new postgraduates training as a nurse or midwife would be required to take out loans to pay for their training and day-to-day costs.
“Putting the needs of patients first by allowing for these targeted extra packages is very welcome”
Speaking yesterday, health minister Stephen Barclay said: “In certain disciplines, such as mental health and learning and disability, some older applicants may be more risk averse about taking on a student loan, depending on when they did their first degree.
“We intend to offer £10,000 golden hellos to postgraduate students in specific hard-to-recruit disciplines – mental health, learning and disability, and district nursing – to reflect the fact that those disciplines often have particular recruitment difficulties,” he said.
“That £9.1m package will be supplemented by a further £900,000 to mitigate a particular challenge with recruiting in any geographical areas,” he told MPs in the House of Commons.
“For example, if an area such as Cornwall suddenly found itself having difficulty in recruiting speech and language therapy recruits, a targeted measure – perhaps at a different quantum from £10,000 – could be implemented in order to reflect those geographical issues,” he said.
He added: “We realise the importance of having consistency between undergraduates and postgraduates… but it is also important to recognise that there might be specific areas in which there are recruitment challenges, and that targeted action to mitigate those challenges is appropriate.”
The announcement was welcomed by Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the influential Commons health select committee, which recently held an inquiry into nursing workforce shortages, with the support of Nursing Times.
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Dr Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, said: “Applicants for learning disability and mental health nursing tend to be older, and those applicants are more likely to stay.
“They are particularly affected, so I am grateful to the minister for listening to our concerns,” she said. “Putting the needs of patients first by allowing for these targeted extra packages is very welcome.”
“This appears to be a welcome concession from the government”
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, welcomed the move to financially support post-graduate nursing students in England, but said more action was needed.
“This appears to be a welcome concession from the government that more needs to be done to convince graduates of other subjects to study nursing. But better still would be to drop its plans to remove full support from these students,” she said.
“Even though it’s a small number of people each year, this two-year course is the fast way to train a registered nurse,” said the RCN leader.
According to national figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, around 550 student nurses started postgraduate training on pre-registration courses in England in 2016-17.
Ms Davies added: “Nursing must be expanded at scale and pace to keep patients safe and students, both undergraduate and post-graduate, should be encouraged and financially supported.
“The RCN will not drop that call until the government goes further, not least with grants and a full raft of other incentives for undergraduates who make up the bulk of trainees each year,” she said.
Labour and nursing unions have strongly attacked the plans to cut postgraduate bursaries, highlighting the recent drop in applicants to undergraduate nursing courses.
“The government has badly failed the next generation of nurses today by forcing through further cuts2
Latest figures show the number of undergraduates applying for courses in England had fallen for a second year in a row, meaning applicants are down by a third since the switch to a loans system.
The data shows that, in the period since the nursing bursary was scrapped, applications to study nursing fell by over 15,000 – down by 33% from 47,390 applicants in 2016 to 31,750 in 2018.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth and shadow education secretary Angela Rayner had forced yesterday’s parliamentary debate on the plans in an attempt to block them.
However, the government voted down Labour’s motion to protect NHS bursaries, with 295 votes against and 234 in favour.
Speaking afterwards, Ms Rayner said: “The government has badly failed the next generation of nurses today by forcing through further cuts to their support and burdening health students with yet more debt.
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“Labour will continue to fight these regressive cuts at every step to make sure health students get the support they need,” said the shadow education secretary.
Meanwhile, Mr Ashworth said: “The government’s decision to abolish NHS bursaries has led to a huge fall in numbers applying for these courses and will make the NHS staffing crisis even worse.
“Now Ministers are pushing ahead with further bursary cuts in the face of all evidence,” he said. “By cutting bursaries for postgraduate students, the Tories’ vote tonight makes it even harder for people to train to work in the NHS.”