There is a “very, very pressing need” to train more nurses, the health secretary told the profession’s leaders at the annual chief nursing officer for England’s summit today, where he also underlined his priority to increase NHS “manpower” instead of staff pay.
During a speech he gave at the CNO’s conference in Birmingham, Jeremy Hunt was asked if he agreed with NHS England chief executive Simon Steven’s comments made yesterday about the need for more registered nurses.
The health secretary said more were required and that this was “at the heart of the issues around nurse training” and the government’s “controversial” decision to remove bursaries.
“I don’t think I’m going to persuade anyone here to agree with that policy,” he said.
“But I should explain why it is we have taken those difficult decisions. Which is basically because for many, many years successive health secretaries have underestimated the number of nurses we are going to need in the system,” he said.
“We have a very, very pressing need to train more nurses,” he added. “Because resources are very, very limited we did take the difficult decision to focus our resources on increasing the number of nurse training places,” he said.
“The challenge I have is the limited resources under which I have to operate”
The government has claimed its decision to end free university education and move to a loans system for student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals from this autumn will allow universities to increase training places by an extra 10,000 by the end of parliament.
Mr Hunt also said at today’s conference that different routes into nursing were also needed, which was why the government had decided to develop nurse apprenticeships as well.
When he was later asked by Unison’s head of nursing Gail Adams whether NHS staff would see their salaries increased above the government’s annual 1% pay rise cap following savings on agency staffing, Mr Hunt said his priority was to increase staffing numbers.
“I would dearly love to pay more than the 1% to all NHS staff because I don’t think people work harder than on the frontline. I think people put in a huge amount of effort from their own time. They really do go the extra mile and the pressure on the frontline has never been greater,” he said.
“The challenge I have is the limited resources under which I have to operate,” he said. “My priority with those resources has been to increase manpower. If I put the money into pay, it would be harder to get those increases in doctor and nurse numbers.”
“My priority with those resources has been to increase manpower. If I put the money into pay, it would be harder to get those increases in”
In addition, when asked about investment in community and district nurses, he said this had been “underplayed” in recent years
He said that to improve performance against the target for 95% of A&E patients to be treated within four hours, “part of it is making sure we have much better treatment in the community and in people’s homes, which we will need more community nurses to do”.
Earlier on in his speech Mr Hunt said the Francis inquiry into care failings at the former Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust had been the driving force behind his focus on improving safety in the health service.
He claimed that around five years ago NHS trusts had estimated they would require 6,000 fewer nurses than they had planned for, over a three-year period.
Instead, there were now almost 13,500 more hospital nurses than there were at that time, he said, which he attributed to a change in approach to safe staffing.
However, he did not refer to the increase in demand that occurred over this period.
“Four and a half years ago we talked about safe staffing and we still talk about safe staffing but I remember when I asked Health Education England for what trusts were planning to hire in terms of their projected nursing workforce over the next three years, I was told they were going to reduce the number of nurses they needed by 6,000,” he said.
“What’s actually happened is our hospital nurses have increased by nearly 13,500. So that’s a 20,000 difference in terms of what people were planning because we have changed the way people think about safe staffing over that period,” he added.
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