Universities are to press ministers for a facility where student loan repayments would be made by trusts for newly-qualified NHS nurses, following the announcement of a major shake- up of student nurse funding.
They will also call for measures to ensure mature students are not deterred from training, a concern raised by unions in the wake of the announcement on changes to nurse education funding in the comprehensive spending review.
The Council of Deans of Health, which represents nursing and midwifery faculties across the UK, told Nursing Times it welcomed the move to loans for tuition fees and living costs, rather than the current bursary system, arguing that it would mean more nurses could train.
However, the body said it had several concerns that would need to be addressed during the government’s consultation on the reforms, which will also apply to trainees midwives and allied health professionals.
“There is still time to design those opportunities[for student loan paybacks]….so we grow the number of students training to be nurses”
In an interview with Nursing Times, Council of Deans chair Dame Jessica Corner said there was a risk mature students – typical of the nursing profession – would be unable to access a loan for a nurse degree if they already held another undergraduate qualification.
She said the council wanted to ensure these students would be exempt – as some other professions are – from rules that do not allow an automatic right to a second loan.
“We understand that [the exemption] will be the case. So that’s good news because these are able, well-qualified, mature students and people who have had other careers possibly. And they make fantastic nurses when they train,” she said.
Dame Jessica also said universities would be calling for the government to introduce a loan repayment scheme for nurses that went on to work in the NHS, where trusts helped with contributions.
“To grow the number of university training places we need to make sure we grow placements and fund them in the NHS to support that”
However, she said that system might not apply to everyone and may only be used to encourage nurses to train in certain places that struggle with recruitment.
She said this could act as a “good incentive” for potential applicants and that it was important to have this on offer when the changes to funding are expected to be introduced, in 2017-18.
“There is still time to design those opportunities. Particularly in the early years of the scheme, so we grow the number of students training to be nurses,” she added.
In his five-year budget announcement yesterday, chancellor George Osborne said the changes to student nurse funding would allow universities to create 10,000 extra training places for nurses, midwives and AHPs.
Dame Jessica Corner
Dame Jessica said there were “anxieties” about whether this number could be realised without extra support for student nurse placements as well.
In the government’s spending review, it froze funding for Health Education England, which pays for nurse placements.
“We want to ensure we can manage an increasing number of placements,” said Dame Jessica. “To grow the number of university training places we need to make sure we grow placements and fund them in the NHS to support that. That’s going to be important.”
Dame Jessica also noted some branches of nursing – such as learning disability or mental health nursing – were traditionally less popular than others, and that national planning would still be required to ensure there are enough nurses training in each speciality.
She said the Council of Deans believed there was “still a role for workforce intelligence” from HEE and that the student funding reforms should not result in “a completely free market” in which universities could do what they want.
In an interview with Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal yesterday, HEE’s chief executive Ian Cumming said the body’s funding freeze would have knock-on “consequences” for the NHS, including limiting funding to trusts for training placements.
Mr Cumming also said HEE’s ability to pay for clinical placements meant the body would retain degree of control over the numbers and distribution of students across the system.