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'Are we so desperate for nurses that we will hire anyone to become a nurse?'


The government made a huge gamble when it removed the student bursary – and unfortunately it has not paid off.

The latest figures show that, so far, there is an 8% drop in the number of nursing students placed on a course for the 2017 September intake compared to this time last year.

Experts in favour of removing the bursary claimed that the huge oversubscription of students wanting to train to become nurses could be a cash cow for the treasury and universities. The government could save the money it used to fund student places. And, no longer limited by the central funding of a set number of places, universities could grow their student nurse numbers and charge a couple of grand more per student for essentially the same course. Win, win…

Unions, student bodies and even some universities – as well as of course us at Nursing Times – all argued that this was a huge risk.

What if removing the bursary made training to be a nurse less attractive, or worse, financially impossible for many? The number of applications could fall, and the workforce crisis we find ourselves in would deepen further.

All concerns were batted away by government, Health Education England and other so-called “experts”.

Even when university applications were seen to be down, many “experts” tried to reassure us that this still meant places would be filled – their argument was that there were always too many applicants for every course, so there was enough of a buffer to take a hit and still fill courses.

Today, though, it now seems they maybe should have paid attention to the warnings. For these were not the random ramblings of people hellbent on promoting doom and gloom – but a pretty accurate prediction of a future, which has now become our reality.

Now we discover that many universities are struggling to fill – and therefore fund – their courses, and that entry standards are inevitably under pressure to slide.

The result? Universities will potentially race to the bottom with the number of UCAS points they will accept for someone to enter a nursing degree. I have heard of some universities accepting critically low grades just to fill places and ensure they can run their nursing course.

For the first time ever, many universities are having to go through the clearing process to fill their nursing courses, and some are reportedly scraping the bottom of the barrel with those they are selecting.

Universities will get more money per student nurse than under the old system where the government paid the fees, so some can afford to take a reduction in the volume of nurses training through their institutions. But realistically, for how long is that sustainable? When will it get to such a point that universities will stop running unprofitable courses and we have no means of training anywhere near enough nurses for what we need, and we damage our workforce pipeline even more than it has been already?

“We need better workforce planning and stronger recruitment”

At a time when there is a shortage of nurses, we need better workforce planning and stronger recruitment of student nurses. What we don’t need is people recruited into the profession who have not been selected on the basis of their talent, interest and values. Those people might not stay, and even if they do, they may be the sort of people that do not make good nurses.

Are we so desperate for nurses that we will hire anyone to become a nurse, regardless of how they behave as an ambassador? Well the answer is sadly yes, it seems.

It is a huge shame for the profession that cheered itself so heartily at becoming an all-graduate entry profession just a few years ago in 2013, to be so cheapened in this way. An even bigger shame is that the government decided to gamble with the future of the nursing profession – and therefore the safety of patients – and lost.




Readers' comments (13)

  • We are holding our nerve at Birmingham City University, interviews help to maintain standards, but very challenging times, I personally Sch your sentiments Jenni

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  • We are also "holding our nerve" at the University of Cumbria! We want our nurses to make a difference! Totally agree with your editorial Jenni - and would add that if we don't get together as nurses and act collectively the powers that be will continue to devalue what we do!

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  • The people who are interested in nursing are the ones that don't apply not just because the lack of bursary but the negative media attention directed at the NHS. I am currently a MH nursing student and have heard more than once 'why would you want to be a nurse', how do we expect to recruit the right people with such negativity and low morale.

    Promote the positives and yes there are plenty, and encourage and motivate potential eager nursing students.

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  • Why be a nurse?
    So you can tell a child her mum's coming home.
    So you can help bring new life into the world.
    So you can hold a hand in comfort.
    So you can clean a father's elderly body.
    So you can very carefully and gently help someone to walk unaided.
    So you can dry tears.

    Want other reasons?

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  • My daughter has just qualified as a midwife so fortunately her degree was funded. She has lived at home and commuted. She has completed up to 50 hours of practical training some weeks & worked long hard hours in her placement hospital and community placements. It has been impossible to work a job alongside all of this. She has had the maximum maintenance loan and a bursary of £110.00 a month. It has still been a real financial struggle. How the hell are nurses and midwives supposed to train without any financial help? I don't get it at all I am a healthcare assistant and I know how pressured these young people are its demoralizing it disgusts me!!!

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  • It was inevitable: neo-liberal elevation of managerialism (pretending to be leadership) middle class values & corporate academia as a means to be on par with other middle class professions has weakened it & done the opposite. High level of Vocational training(equivalent to uni training)/ learning, strong unions (less management run) would have elevated it to a strong pragmatic/vocational operational frontline workforce that would have found its true voice and power in numbers = exactly what pearly wearing necklaced classist conservative England doesn't want.

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  • I know lets blame potential excellent students who are more likely to come from poorer diverse backgrounds when ideas of loans & degrees arent working. HSJ &Nursing times get a grip and stop cosying up to the powers that be. What a load of drivel in my opinion and yes its just an opinion.

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  • By making nursing an academic course, people that would make fantastic nurses are now completely excluded. Yes, you need to have the ability to learn but nursing is a practical job, it is not academic like being a lawyer, it is having the ability & wanting to care & make a difference to people that is needed. Why would the top academic students want to go into nursing when the end result is a poorly paid job, terrible hours, terrible conditions and with terrible management. Look at the basic problems of nursing as a profession then if that is solved maybe more young people may want to become the future carers that we desperately need.

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  • Nursing is evolving. It is no longer just a supporting role to the doctors or psychiatrists. Nurses have accountability and responsibility towards the people they care for therefore have to use interventions that are evidence and value based so that care provided is effective and efficient. Without this in-depth study no matter how much one wants to care and make a difference they may end up being a liability and a risk to the welfare of patients. Nursing is a very intricate / complex profession today and in addition many legal and ethical issues to contend with, therefore the need for this long professional training to prepare would be nurses to do the work properly. It is however very difficult for anyone to go through this course without some financial assistance as others have said. I for one even though getting a bursary, the cost of maintaining a family and to buy decent clothing for placements left me a poorer person and relied on credit cards which will take years for me to pay off on top of my student loans. Not trying to divide nursing but in mental health nursing it is more expensive as a student as you have to fund your placement 'professional clothes' as well. Without the bursary I am not sure how student nurses will manage, maybe they can be paid minimum wage when on placements? However, I think nursing is still a great career and fulfilling for anyone who cares enough to want to make a difference in someone's life.

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  • When I came here I thought nurses only supported doctors and had no idea what else you do. I seriously didn't. A lot of people still think the same thing. One reason is you only care about getting better once you are in hospital and all nurses issues suddenly become less important. Then once you are better you leave.

    I now appreciate you hard you all work and how tough and complicated nursing really is.

    People outside nursing and hospitals have no idea what you do.
    Do you think the people in charge know anything about nursing courses? About being exhausted from the long placements?
    Nursing is a complex mixture of academic study and practical training, working on placements and doing your exams and coping with patients and doctors and being exhausted at the end.

    You need to get political and tell the public what you actually go through every day just to be able to care.

    The main problem is you are vital but the people in charge don't know this. What is Jane Cummings doing about all this?


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