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Who is going to step up to the plate?

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Managing the nursing workforce often feels like plate spinning. You need to focus on attracting people coming into the profession while keeping hold of those you already have. 

As soon as you take your hands off the pole on which the plate marked ‘retention’ is balanced, the plate marked ‘recruitment’ comes crashing to the ground.

Only now, we find ourselves in a situation where all the plates have come crashing down and we are standing with them all around us – smashed to smithereens.

“Most people seem to be resigned to the fact that there is no way back”

Senior nurse leaders know we have a retention problem and are desperately trying to think of ways to reverse the trend of people leaving the Nursing and Midwifery Council register.

But at the other end of the workforce pipeline, the number of people applying to train as a nurse in England this year is lower than the same point in 2017.

As Nursing Times revealed earlier this week, in February, course applicants were down by 13% compared with 2017, meaning they had declined for the second year in a row and were down by around 33% overall since student bursaries were removed in 2016.

It is clear that the removal of the bursaries has had an impact on the number of people applying to become nurses. As the unions predicted, it seems mature students, who arguably have the most life experience and valuable skills, are one of the most affected groups.

Most people seem to be resigned to the fact that there is no way back, and that the bursary has gone forever. The government might not want to lose face on this issue.

Bear in mind the move to loans was heralded by ministers at the time as a way to fix the staffing crisis. They suggested that releasing universities from the restraints of central government funding would lead to 10,000 more places for nursing students at universities.

That has not happened. Education funding might have needed a reform – it might have been proving unsustainable. But that was because it was not being properly funded by the government or seen as a priority.

Removing the bursary has not worked. It has succeeded in saving the government some cash but failed in providing the increase in student numbers we needed to see. And we seem to have lost sight of the fact that the latter was the big motivation – at least publicly – for doing this in the first place.

“What funding options are there for students from disadvantaged backgrounds?”

This downward trend in student numbers looks like it will only accelerate, and so it is time to think about what could be done to help attract some of those would-be student nurses into training.

What funding options are there for students from disadvantaged backgrounds? How can we attract people into parts of the profession, such as learning disabilities, that have been most hit by this change in education funding?

Time is running out and the clock is ticking so this is not a decision that can be deferred. Every reduced intake that goes by is eroding the number of nurses on the register. Who is going to step up to the plate – and keep it spinning?


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