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First indication of how fields of nursing have had course recruitment problems since end of bursary


Around 60% of learning disability nursing, 40% of adult nursing and 25% of mental health nursing courses recruited fewer students than planned this year, according to the Royal College of Nursing.

In contrast, less than 1% of children’s nursing education programmes recruited fewer students than planned this year, results from a new survey of universities in England have indicated.

“Some regions are finding most of their universities struggling to recruit”

RCN report

The findings from the survey, carried out by the college in October, are thought to provide the first indication of how far different fields of nursing education have encountered recruitment problems to courses since the removal of bursaries.

The RCN found “significant under-recruitment” in places meant universities may be forced to change their courses in the future – though no adjustments were being planned for 2018-19. Some told the RCN they expected to stop their spring intake of students, with one confirming that this was already happening.

The RCN, which today published the survey results as part of a wide-ranging report on the supply of nurses, accused the government of “squandering” its chance to address concerns about nurse staffing levels that were uncovered in the Francis report five years ago.

The college’s new report also highlighted the further fall this year in the number of people applying to nurse training, coming on the back of the decrease in 2017, as reported earlier today by Nursing Times.

Commenting on the findings of its report, RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said care failings were now “more likely, not less” since the Francis inquiry published its findings.

From its survey of around half of all 52 universities offering undergraduate nursing courses in England, the RCN found learning disability nursing programmes had fared the worst.

A total of six out of 10 learning disability nursing courses had not recruited enough students, while three said they were on target and one had recruited more students than planned.

Concerns have previously been raised in particular about the ongoing viability of some learning disability nursing courses and also the number of future nurses being educated for the area, with warnings from both the Council of Deans and Health Education England itself.

Among the 28 adult nursing courses that responded to the survey there was a “mixed picture,” according to the RCN, which found 11 had under-recruited, but 10 were oversubscribed and seven had secured the number they had planned for.

Meanwhile, six out of 24 mental health nursing courses had not filled all of their training places this year, but 10 had recruited more students than planned and eight were on target.

“Nursing is a wonderful career but the government must do more to make it attractive”

Janet Davies

Among the 24 children’s nursing courses that responded, only one had failed to recruit enough trainees. Half had secured the number of students they expected and 11 had taken on more than planned.

Regional variation was stark, “with some regions finding most of their [universities] struggling to recruit,” said the RCN in its report, called Left to chance: the health and care nursing workforce supply in England.

It called for the government to take “urgent” action to stop applications to nursing from falling further – stressing that the profession was in the middle of a “nursing workforce crises”.

“For the first time in years there are now more nurses and midwives leaving the profession before retirement,” it said, referring to recent figures showing the nursing register is shrinking.

A “sustained, high-profile national” recruitment campaign is needed to attract more people into the profession, said the RCN.

In addition, nurses trained in areas with shortfalls should have their tuition fees written off and more incentives should be put in place for people already working in the NHS to convert to nursing through postgraduate study, said the RCN.

More funding for nurse apprenticeships was also required and budgets for continuing professional development for nurses should be reinstated, it added.

“Nursing is a wonderful career but the government must do more to make it attractive to the tens of thousands of new nurses we need,” said Ms Davies.

“If ministers fail, they are storing up unimaginable problems for the future. The staffing crisis must be stopped from spiralling further,” she added.

“The staffing crisis must be stopped from spiralling further”

Janet Davies

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s health spokesman, said: “This damning report from the RCN exposes the government’s hollow promises on nurse recruitment. It’s staggering that training numbers are falling when all the evidence shows we need more nurses in the NHS, not less.”

“Ministers have failed to deliver the number of nurses the NHS needs to keep patients safe, and by removing the nurse bursary they’re damaging recruitment for years to come as well,” he added.

Nursing and Midwifery Council chief executive and registrar, Jackie Smith, said: “Yet again we see from the report published today the multiple challenges facing the health and care sectors, which are struggling to recruit and retain nurses.

“We know from our own data that nurses are choosing to leave the profession; reversing that trend is essential,” she said. “Investing in continuing professional development will not only go a way to reversing that trend but it will equip nurses with the right skills to keep patients safe.”


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Readers' comments (2)

  • A high profile recruitment campaign won't do any good; as the majority of people must surely now be aware of the terrible stress in nursing. Overworked, very underpaid, undervalued. Who would want to do it?! I can't wait to leave, and would discourage anyone from joining nursing these days.

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  • Janet Davies says that nursing is a wonderful career. For me the main wonder is that anyone bothers trying it any more. I feel slightly ashamed to tell people I am a nurse, in case they laugh at me for getting so little reward for such arduous work.

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