While many nurses have been concerned about the job cuts that the NHS efficiency drive may bring about, at the other end of the scale, academics and those in charge of workforce planning fear that a shortage of student nurses could jeopardise the profession.
Nursing Times has received information that the number of student nursing commissions is likely to drop by more than 2,000 places in 2011-12 compared with 2010-11. This could create a shortfall in about three years when those would-be nurses fail to graduate into nursing posts.
According to an answer to a question tabled in Parliament by Baroness Emerson in late June, the government is suggesting there will be a total of 18,069 nursing commissions in England for 2011-12 compared with 20,092 for the previous academic year.
This could suggest the government predicts there will be fewer jobs for those nurses to graduate into and so they are “growing” fewer nurses, or that cutting health-funded courses is a quick way to reduce government spending. But it’s a short-sighted solution, which can only result in eroding the profession. Attrition rates across courses are high, and in some places as bad as 15 to 20%. Add that to the mix, and we really will create a shortfall in qualified nurses that could see directors of nursing once again having to look overseas to fill their posts in three years’ time.
And fewer commissions means fewer lecturers. While some may be glad to retire early, there is a concern their posts will never be replaced. Unlike in medicine, nurses cannot move over to academia as easily - the movement is not as fluid. When universities need to refill lecturer posts when course commissions hopefully take an upturn, they may find it hard going. The increasingly technical nature of care and growing number of patients as people live longer will demand more nurses not fewer. Decisions to cut university places could present nursing with a long-term problem that extends well beyond the next few years.