England’s biggest funder of adult nurse training has decided to cut places by nearly a quarter, leaving the future of some of the best known nursing courses in doubt.
NHS London’s decision to cut the number studying adult nursing each year from 2,000 to 1,580 and ask the capital’s nine nursing schools to tender to win training work could result in the closure of several courses.
A document produced by the strategic health authority in June and obtained by Nursing Times said: “Re-shaping the market, that includes some [higher education institutions] not continuing as providers, would allow the highest performing organisation to operate more sustainably.”
According to NHS London’s latest published ratings, the University of Greenwich is its highest performer. King’s College was among the four training providers given a “low amber” rating - the lowest score awarded.
The document said NHS London had tried to reduce adult nursing training numbers this year but it would have led to the closure of some universities’ nursing departments.
The report also said it was responding to an anticipated reduction in its non-medical training budget of 15% “over the next three to four years”.
NHS London said the move was prompted by quality fears. Its official announcement of the plans did not mention the budget cuts.
Speaking to Nursing Times, London’s chief nurse professor Trish Morris-Thompson said the move was “in response to concerns from the nursing profession about the quality of the product coming out of the HEIs”.
“Nurses were graduating who weren’t employable, there were issues around literacy, numeracy and attitude,” she said.
“We want to drive up the quality of training to make sure they can contribute to the workforce and are employable.”
The Royal College of Nursing’s operation manager for London Nora Flanagan said: “We wouldn’t disagree with the issues around quality, but we are concerned about the speed at which this is being done.”
She demanded guarantees that people who applied for a course at a university that was then de-selected were given a place elsewhere.
Professor Ieuan Ellis, chair of Council of Deans of Health, said the plan to bring in new contracts by September 2012 was “destabilising and fails to recognise the impact it will have on students applying to courses for 2012 entry”.
He said London deans had urged NHS London to defer implementation until 2013.
“It is disappointing that the NHSL decision to continue with the current timetable for 2012 implementation has not been communicated to universities in London prior to the statement being released,” he said.
A disproportionate number of nurses are trained in the capital’s teaching hospitals before moving elsewhere to work. A recent National Nursing Research Unit report said only 55% of nurses trained in London still worked there three years later - the lowest proportion of any English region.
Professor Jim Buchan, a nursing academic at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, said: “In the past London has been an engine of growth for other parts of the UK - nurses go there for specialist or pre-registration training. The question then is if London is going to reduce its training numbers will there be a knock-on effect on the whole of the NHS? The answer is yes.”
NHS London has said the current rate of adult nurses qualifying would lead to an oversupply of 6,000 by 2015 - 25% more than required.
But it intends to increase the number of nurses working with children, health visitors and midwives.
London’s reduction is the first announced by a strategic health authority since an RCN study in July found training cuts could reduce the workforce by 28% within 10 years. The college warned poor workforce planning could lead to “a return to quick-fix overseas recruitment, downgrading the current workforce and crude substitution between registered and non-registered roles”.