The chief executive of NHS England has personally pledged to ensure brutal cuts to career progression funds for nurses are reversed.
Giving a keynote speech at the chief nursing officer for England’s summit today, Simon Stevens gave his “personal guarantee” to refuel the continuing professional development (CPD) budget.
“We know we have got to provide the tools to enable proper career development for nurses, midwives and health visitors,” he told delegates at the conference in Birmingham.
He said he recognised that CPD budgets were “slashed” due to funding reductions at Health Education England and added: “We are going to have to put that right”.
“You have my personal guarantee that we will go into bat, and we will get a restoration, phased over the next five years of the budgets we need for CPD,” said Mr Stevens.
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The “litmus test” for the success of the NHS Long Term Plan would be around whether nurse and general practitioner workforce problems could be addressed, he also said.
In order to do that, there needs to be a “meaningful expansion” in undergraduate nursing, he told the audience of senior nurses.
“There’s no substitute even despite the fact we are going to have wonderful nursing associates and new routes into nursing, there’s no substitute for graduate nurses and we have obviously seen this big fall in the number of applications for undergraduate nursing,” he said.
While highlighting a “modest” improvement in the latest application figures, Mr Stevens said universities were still having to turn away “bright and brilliant” candidates due to lack of clinical placements – describing this as a “paradox”.
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However, this claim was later challenged by Professor Jennie Wilson from the University of West London during a question and answer session after Mr Stevens’ keynote address.
She said: “We have to say that our perspective on nursing recruitment is perhaps a little different.
“We have been recently ranked the best university for nurse training in London….but our applications are 30% down, they have been dropping consistently over the last few years and our perspective is not that we are turning people away,” she added.
Professor Wilson’s comments echo those made by the Council of Deans of Health, which represents UK faculties of nursing and midwifery, after a similar claim was made in the NHS Long Term Plan.
During the Q&A, Mr Stevens was also quizzed by Patricia Marquis, interim England director at the Royal College of Nursing, over whether he would support the college’s campaign for safe staffing legislation.
However, Mr Stevens said he was “pretty convinced” that an act of parliament would not solve nurse staffing issues, adding: “there’s a lot more we have to do”.
The NHS England boss also revealed that he had appointed Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent as the first national chief midwife for the country to work alongside chief nursing officer, Dr Ruth May.
“Every nurse or midwife we lose has an impact and costs”
In addition, he noted how there was more to do to improve community support for people with learning disabilities, claiming some areas of the country were still “too dependent on old institutional models of care”.
Mr Stevens’ CPD commitment was welcomed by Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive and registrar of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, and Dame Donna Kinnair, acting chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing.
Ms Sutcliffe said: “Every nurse or midwife we lose has an impact and costs, in terms of both recruiting new people, as well as the opportunity cost of replacing their invaluable experience and knowledge.
“I really welcome today’s pledge to prioritise CPD as being not only the right thing to do for nurses and midwives who love seeing the difference they make for people, but as the most effective thing to do too,” she added.
While Dame Donna said nurses at every stage of their career would be pleased to hear Mr Stevens’ pledge to reversing “savage cuts” to CPD.
“Lack of training opportunities are regularly cited by nurses in surveys as one of the main reasons they are unhappy and may leave their jobs,” she added.