The number of nurse training places in Wales is to increase by 10% over the coming financial year, the Welsh government has announced.
The number of nurse training places will increase by 10% in 2016-17, as part of an £85m investment package, said health and social services minister Mark Drakeford.
Nurse training places will rise by 135 in 2016-17 to 1,418, an increase of 10%, on top of a 22% increase during the current financial year 2015-16.
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The £85m investment package also includes an increase of more than 10% in physiotherapy and diagnostic radiography training places, and a 5% rise in therapeutic radiographers.
In addition, investment to support the development of healthcare support workers will increase to £1.5m.
As well as training new entrants, the investment will fund training opportunities for existing staff and return to practice courses for those on career breaks, said the government.
Professor Drakeford said: “Highly-trained staff are the heart of the Welsh NHS – this £85m investment will go towards developing the next generation.
“This includes the highest level of nurse training places since devolution and extra training places in key professional areas, including diagnostic radiography and physiotherapy,” he said.
He added: “This investment is based on what NHS organisations have told us they need to maintain services.
“Despite the financial pressures faced during in recent years we have continued to invest in education and training for health professionals in Wales,” he said. “This year is no exception.”
“This will help create a stable and secure nursing workforce across Wales”
The Royal College of Nursing in Wales said it welcomed the planned additional investment in nurse training places.
Peter Meredith-Smith, RCN Wales associate director for employment relations, said: “We have for the past several years called for the number of training places for nurses in Wales to be increased to cope with the serious staffing problems that the NHS faces presently and to more effectively prepare for the future demands of our health services.
“An increase in the number of nurses trained becomes even more important now as we move closer to a situation whereby Wales will become the first European country to set legal minimum nurse staffing levels for certain NHS clinical wards,” he said.
He added: “As we welcome this announcement, we ask that every effort is made by the Welsh government to maintain and increase nurse training numbers year on year so that safe staffing levels are maintained at all times on our hospital wards.”
But Helen Rogers, director for Wales at the Royal College of Midwives, said the lack of an increase in midwifery training places was “very disappointing”.
“Student midwife numbers have remained static since 2014, and we are now facing a third year with no increase in the number of places available,” she said. ”This is despite the fact that this year health boards have employed all newly-qualified midwives needing jobs and there are still vacancies.
“This situation is also compounded by the fact that a significant number of midwives in Wales will be approaching retirement age,” she added.
The number of people directly employed by NHS Wales currently stands at 84,000.