More than 12,000 nursing associates are to begin training through apprenticeships in England by 2019, the health secretary was set to announce today as part of a major boost to the workforce that also sees the government commit to more registered nurses.
In addition to the 2,000 associates already in training this year at pilot sites, 5,000 more will begin in 2018 and 7,500 every year from 2019 onwards, Jeremy Hunt was due to confirm this morning at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“This represents the biggest increase in nurse training places in the history of the NHS - and we will make sure that many of the additional places go to healthcare assistants”
In addition, it is estimated that up to around half of each year’s cohort of nursing associates will go on to further training to become a registered nurse after they have completed the initial two-year associate programme.
This is expected to result in around 4,600 extra nurses by 2022, according to government estimations.
Meanwhile, on top of the government’s previous commitment to ensure 10,000 more nurses begin undergraduate training at university by 2020 – which it pledged following the removal of student bursaries – the health secretary was due to say that this figure will increase by around a further 5,500.
Over the summer, the Department of Health made a last-minute announcement to boost clinical placement funding for universities and NHS trusts from this September onwards to support an increase in the number of student nurses.
- Thousands more student nurse placements to be funded
- DH confirms extra placement funding for student nurses
A Department of Health spokeswoman confirmed to Nursing Times that today’s pledge to train a further 5,500 will be supported with government funding to provide additional clinical placements.
If enough people apply, this placement funding will initially allow the number of student nurses at university to rise from 20,680 this academic year to 25,850 in 2018 - an increase of 25%.
Mr Hunt was expected to say that the increases will “jump start” nurse training, needed to ensure the NHS can look after a million more people who will be aged over 75 in the next decade.
“Combined with the 25% increase in medical school places announced last year, this will transform the ability of our NHS to cope with the pressures ahead”
“This represents the biggest increase in nurse training places in the history of the NHS - and we will make sure that many of the additional places go to healthcare assistants training on hospital sites, allowing us to expand our nurse workforce with some highly experienced people already working on the NHS frontline,” he was due to say.
“Combined with the 25% increase in medical school places announced last year, this will transform the ability of our NHS to cope with the pressures ahead.”
Meanwhile, the health secretary was due to announce a package of measures to improve retention of NHS staff.
More return to practice courses will be made available nurses who want to come back to the profession.
A new system of bank working will also be established to ensure flexible working arrangements for staff and help to reduce the money spent by employers on agency workers.
“We are concerned at the risk of students plugging the gaps in the current workforce at the expense of quality patient care and their own learning experience”
In addition 3,000 NHS employees will be provided with first refusal on affordable housing generated through the sale of surplus NHS land.
The Royal College of Nursing said significant increases to the number of nurses being trained was welcome but warned that students should not be used to plug gaps in the workforce.
The union also criticised the plans for being “too hospital-focused” and stressed that nurses of the future required a flexible education that would allow them to work across community settings as well.
“Significant increases to training numbers is welcome - we desperately need more nurses. However, they must be educated to the highest standards,” said Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary.
“We are concerned at the risk of students plugging the gaps in the current workforce at the expense of quality patient care and their own learning experience,” she added.
“It’s understandable that the government want to increas[e] the number of registered nurses and nursing associates, however our role is to protect the public”
The Nursing and Midwifery Council, which is not due to begin regulating nursing assoicates until 2019 and has yet to approve training programmes for the role, stressed the importance of public protection following today’s announcement by the health secretary.
The body also highlighted that it was “working closely” with education providers to establish what further training an associate would require to meet its standards to become a registered nurse.
”The pressures facing the health and care workforce have been widely acknowledged and our own register has seen a decline in those registered to work in the UK,” said NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith.
”It’s understandable that the government want to address these challenges by increasing the number of registered nurses and nursing associates, however our role is to protect the public by making sure that all those wishing to join our register meet our rigorous standards,” she said.
“It is essential that there is a region by region, university by university, allocation of these places as soon as possible”
Professor David Green
“If the necessary changes to our legislation go through on time, we would expect nursing associates who have completed their training and met our standards to join the register in January 2019. Those standards will ensure a clear distinction between the graduate registered nurse and the nursing associate,” added Ms Smith.
University of Worcester chief executive and vice-chancellor Professor David Green noted that government announcements to boost nurse training earlier in the year - through creating additional placements - had been too slow to materialise and called for today’s pledges to be realised “as soon as possible”.
”We very much hope that these 5,000 nurse places will be released immediately. In January the government announced that there would be 10,000 new places, but none were actually created until mid-August, when 1,500 were announced for courses starting just three weeks later,” he said.
“Our NHS faces a 40,000 shortfall of nurses because of reduction of training places, seven years of capped pay, and the scrapping of the nurses’ bursary”
”If 5,000 is the new number for next year, and thousands more nursing associate places will be created in addition, it is essential that there is a region by region, university by university, allocation of these places as soon as possible,” he added.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said today’s announcement would fail to reverse the damage done by the government, which had caused a shortage of nurses.
“Our NHS faces a 40,000 shortfall of nurses because of reduction of training places, seven years of capped pay, and the scrapping of the nurses’ bursary. On top of this record of failure, Theresa May’s shambolic handling of Brexit means more European Union nurses could leave the NHS,” he said.
“Our NHS needs what Labour pledged in our manifesto - bring back the nurses’ training bursary and give nurses the pay rise they deserve,” he added.