The influential Commons’ health select committee has announced that it is to hold a wide-ranging inquiry into the nursing workforce in England.
The inquiry will cover factors including workforce planning, Brexit and language testing, as well as government policies on scrapping student bursaries and creating new routes into the profession.
“There are many factors contributing to the shortfall in nursing staff”
In a statement, the committee said it “wished to examine” whether the government and other responsible bodies have a “robust plan” in place to address the shortfall of nursing staff.
It also wanted to ensure ministers and other senior figures were “held accountable for their performance” on the issue, said the committee.
As a result, it said it was seeking evidence from stakeholders on the “current and future scale” of the shortfall of nursing staff in England.
It said it wanted to know if the NHS, the government and its arm’s-length bodies – such as Health Education England – had “effective plans in place to recruit, train and retain this vital workforce”.
In addition, the group of MPs said they would assess the impact of new routes into nursing, such as apprenticeships and nursing associates, as well as student funding reforms.
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“This inquiry will assess the impact of new routes into nursing (including student funding reforms, the Apprenticeship Levy, Nurse First and nursing associates),” said the committee.
“In particular, the inquiry will examine the effect of changes to funding arrangements for nurse training, including the withdrawal of bursaries, and consider alternative funding models and incentives,” it stated.
The committee added that it wanted to hear suggestions on how policymakers could “optimise the potential” of the new routes into nursing, as well as how they might retain and deploy existing staff more effectively.
Meanwhile, the committee said it was also interested in the potential impact on the nursing shortage of Brexit and English language testing currently used by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
As previously reported, concerns have been raised about the impact of both Brexit and the International English Language Testing System – which overseas nurses have to pass to join the NMC register.
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Announcing the inquiry, the MPs cited previous evidence of shortages from the Commons’ communities and local government select committee, National Audit Office and Health Education England.
The committee also highlighted figures published by the nursing regulator in July showing that more people were now leaving the professional register than joining.
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There are “many factors” contributing to the shortfall in nursing staff, which could affect the quality of care for patients and the performance of NHS and social care services, it noted.
The cross-bench committee is chaired by Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes and a former GP, who revealed the inquiry during a Commons debate on public sector pay this afternoon.
“We will be looking not just at pay but at those wider workforce pressures”
Dr Wollaston said: “We will be looking not just at pay but at those wider workforce pressures that they face also around workload, morale and all the other non-pay issues that are contributing to pressures including the increased workload that comes from increasing demand across the system.
“We’re also going to be looking at issues like the new routes into nursing, the impact of bursaries and about what that impact is having on those who are entering the nursing workforce,” she said.
“So we know, for example, that those who drop out of nursing courses are more likely to be those in the younger age groups whereas those who come into nursing as mature students are much more likely to stay. So we need to look at all of these wider impacts,” she added.
As well as looking at new routes into nursing, she said the inquiry would look at “the skill mix more widely and roles within health and social care”.
“We’re also going to be looking at the impact of Brexit and language testing, and workload and morale more widely,” she told the House of Commons.
Other high profile members include former health minister and Labour MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw and Luciana Berger, Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree and a former shadow health minister.
The committee has asked those wishing to contribute for written evidence of no more than 3,000 words to be submitted by 12 October. It expects to hold oral evidence sessions in November.