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Call for long-term nurse education funding to end 'boom and bust' cycle

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Setting minimum thresholds for health and social care workforce training commisions should be considered by the future government to better plan for the future workforce outside of short-term annual NHS budgets, academics have said.

The Council of Deans of Health, which represents 85 university faculties, has also urged the incoming government to look into whether students and employers should contribute towards tuition fees.

In a report that identifies a series of issues around education for health professionals, the body has called for a “longer-term, more strategic approach to workforce planning that is not simply tied to annual NHS budgets,” following the general election in May.

“There needs to be a sustained effort to promote advanced practice, and an open debate about how funding can be used more innovatively”

Council of Deans

It said workforce planning was an underpinning factor that was causing the current “crisis” in staffing numbers in England, driving many trusts to recruit nurses from overseas.

More widely across the UK, staff shortages were putting health and social care services under pressure, the report warned.

Therefore, a full review of how health higher education is funded and planned in England is required, claimed the paper – titled Beyond Crisis: making the most of health higher education and research.

This should include exploring minimum thresholds for projected workforce commissions and investigating whether students and employers should make a contribution for funding tuition fees, said the council in its report.

“We need to ask the hard questions about whether students and/or employers should make a contribution to funding education and we need to address the boom and bust that has dogged workforce planning for years,” it stated.

Currently, the recently-created national workforce planning body Health Education England commissions fully-funded university training places for nurses and other healthcare workers.

Universities can recruit outside of their commissioned training places – by enrolling students who pay for their fees themselves – but the Council of Deans said it would like to see a review of this split system.

The body said it also wanted the review to look at giving more freedom to universities that want to recruit beyond the proposed minimum threshold.

“The generation of new knowledge and its application in practice must be sustained… this will involve developing more people… in dual clinical and academic roles”

Council of Deans

Meanwhile, in Scotland the Council of Deans wants to see workforce planning move to a three-year cycle, while in Wales it wants greater focus on the future workforce for primary and community care.

The deans have also called for healthcare research funding to be protected when the new government makes budget decisions in the next comprehensive spending review, while calling for an increase in the number of clinical academics from the allied health, nursing and midwifery professions.

It said it wants to see 1% of the registered nursing and midwifery workforce become clinical academics by 2030.

“To meet the needs of future patients, the generation of new knowledge and its application in practice must be sustained,” stated the paper. “Across the UK, this will involve developing more people who are able to work in dual clinical and academic roles.”

The report also called for more to be done to support the existing workforce, especially in creating career frameworks for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.

“There needs to be a sustained effort to promote advanced practice, and an open debate about how funding can be used more innovatively, for example giving access to all health professions to some of the postgraduate opportunities currently only open to doctors,” it added.

The report comes ahead of the expected publication later this week of Lord Willis’ Shape of Caring review on the future of nurse education and training.

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