Retention of nurses and other healthcare staff is a “far greater challenge” for the NHS than recruiting enough students for undergraduate training, a peer has warned during a debate on staffing.
Speaking yesterday on the impact of Brexit on staffing in the NHS and social care services, Baroness Mary Watkins and other peers outlined a range of ongoing problems with nurse recruitment and retention which they warned could worsen following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
Baroness Watkins, who secured the debate and is a nurse by background, along with a number of other peers urged the government to reassure EU healthcare staff they would be able to remain in the UK following Brexit.
”The retention of staff within the NHS is a far greater challenge than recruiting students to join undergraduate programmes”
In response health minister Lord Prior said the government had already said the prime minster “has been clear that she wants to secure the status of UK nationals abroad as well as EU nationals already living here” and that ahead of Brexit negotiations it would be “wrong to set out unilateral positions”.
The peers noted wider action also needed to be taken to deal with staffing shortages.
While Baroness Watkins highlighted there was a risk of deterring people from nurse training under new funding arrangements confirmed yesterday that will see the removal of bursaries and introduction of loans from next year, she said retention of staff was a bigger problem for the profession.
To help deal with this, she said there was a “clear case” for the government to consider paying back student loans for people who work in the NHS for a minimum number of years.
“How can we expect our staff to deliver the NHS Five Year Forward View if we do not support their continued professional development?”
“As we continue the transition to the new healthcare education funding system in England, we need to look beyond the immediate implementation of these reforms to the longer term,” she said,
“The retention of staff within the NHS is a far greater challenge than recruiting students to join undergraduate programmes. There is a clear case for the government to consider ‘forgivable loans’ for students who go on to work in the NHS for, say, three to five years—a cost, of course, but one that could well be outweighed by savings on agency staff and recruiting from overseas,” she added.
Baroness Watkins later went on to say “perhaps a deeper concern” was the threat to funding for continuing professional development.
She said this was an area “where very little has been said” and called for the “silence” to be broken “if the future of the NHS and its workforce is to be safeguarded through the momentous changes ahead”.
Baroness Watkins referred to the fact funding for the NHS workforce’s ongoing training had been cut by around 45% this year.
”In terms of retaining the staff we have, having trained them, there is a great deal that we can do”
“How can we expect our staff to deliver the NHS Five Year Forward View and the care our population needs if we do not support their continued professional development necessary to do their jobs?…We all understand the financial pressures on the NHS but education and training must no longer be a soft target,” she said.
In response to concerns raised about NHS staffing, health minister Lord Prior referred to a number of government initiatives to boost workforce numbers.
He said workforce planning body Health Education England had been increasing the number of commissioned training places for healthcare staff in recent years, while repeating previous claims there would be up to 10,000 extra trainees by 2020 under the education reforms which will see bursaries removed.
The government’s plans to expand apprenticeship schemes would also “help NHS employers to recruit staff and reduce reliance on expensive agencies,” he said.
“In terms of retaining the staff we have, having trained them, there is a great deal that we can do,” he added.