Suggestions that thousands more nurses would be trained under plans to scrap bursaries are misplaced due a lack of placements and mentors to support students, it has been claimed.
Nurse educators and former students said the current system of placements was “fragile” and would be unable to meet increasing numbers of trainees.
“One thing that is well researched and well understood is that the placement system is fragile”
In its spending review at the end of last year, the government announced proposals to end free university education for student nurses in England and instead introduce a loans-based system from 2017.
Chancellor George Osborne claimed the move would allow universities to provide up to 10,000 extra course places for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals by 2020, because they would no longer be restricted by how much government funding was available.
But during a debate on the plans – hosted this week by London South Bank University – a series of concerns were raised about placements, with one former student claiming the current system “doesn’t work”.
Robert Waterson, a newly-qualified staff nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London, said: “You have some placements where you’ve got a huge array of students from different universities fighting for time with a mentor or nurses. So something needs to be done.”
“At the moment we haven’t got enough staff, and within that we haven’t got enough mentors. When you can’t retain staff how are you going to train them to become mentors?” he added.
Mr Waterson suggested government decisions to cap nurse pay rises to 1% were partly to blame for retention problems.
Nurse educator Kate Brown, also at the debate, described the required increase in placements to support the expansion in training places as “mythical”.
“One thing that is well researched and well understood – certainly every university in London knows – the placement system for nursing is fragile.
“Even [with] this great proposed expansion, given the current number of hours [for minimum practice hours] specified by the Nursing and Midwifery Council there isn’t this mythical huge potential for expanding number of placements. So it’s dishonest,” she said.
Elisabeth Jelfs, director of the Council of Deans of Health, which represents faculties of nursing and midwifery across the UK, agreed there was a “huge” amount of work to be done around placement capacity.
However, she said these problems were not being experienced across all regions of the country, suggesting nurse trainee numbers would be able to increase – but not in all areas.
Following a protest in December, student nurses are planning to gather in London for a second time on Saturday to demonstrate against the government’s plans to end free university nurse training in England.
In addition, a debate is scheduled to take place on the issue in the Commons on Monday, after a petition on the parliament website reached the necessary threshold to trigger its discussion by MPs.