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Weekly news summary: 4 February 2017

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The number of people applying to undergraduate nursing courses in England has fallen by 23% this year compared to last year, official data has confirmed.

Unions said this underlined their “worst fears” about the axing of the bursary. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, which provided the figures, said the overall number of applicants to study any degree subject had fallen across the UK, but nursing experienced the “most notable decrease”. The amount of people applying to nursing in Wales fell by 11%, by 7% in Scotland, and 4% in Northern Ireland.

Labour MPs have claimed the government’s ongoing policy of public sector pay restraint is “damaging” to nursing and risks the NHS losing the goodwill of its staff. In a parliamentary debate sparked by a petition, MPs urged the government to put a stop to its annual 1% pay rise cap - which is in place until 2020 - and instead properly use the independent NHS pay review body to assess wage rises. If not nurses may either leave the profession or stop working the extra unpaid hours they often do, warned the MPs.

Speaking at the debate, health minister Philip Dunne said he rejected claims that NHS nurses are undervalued. He said that while NHS staff “undoubtedly deserve a cost of living increase” it needed to be recognised that the “financial and quality challenge facing the NHS is unprecedented”. By holding down pay, the government had protected jobs in the NHS, he said.

Fears have been raised over the potential patient safety risk from nursing associates who have trained at pilot sites, because they may not be qualified to the level required by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. The concerns were put forward by a council member at the NMC’s latest meeting where it agreed to regulate the new role. NMC chief executive Jackie Smith acknowledged the development of associates had been done in the “wrong order” because pilot programmes had already begun, ahead of the NMC setting the training standards.

A ground-breaking international study to build culturally aware robots could revolutionise care for the elderly, according to nurse researchers involved with the scheme. The international three-year research project is aiming to develop and evaluate robots that can help provide health-related assistance such as reminding an individual to take their medication, do their physical exercise, or raise the alarm in emergencies. Irena Papadopoulos, professor of transcultural health and nursing at Middlesex University London, which is part of the research group, said: “Assistive, intelligent robots for older people could relieve pressures in hospital and care homes as well as improving care delivery at home and promoting independent living for the elderly.”

Older people should be asked about falls when they have routine assessments and reviews with health and social care practitioners, and if they present at hospital, according to updated guidance. In addition, the guidance – from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – said older people at risk of falling should be offered a multi-factorial falls risk assessment and those assessed as being at increased risk given an individualised multi-factorial intervention.

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