The government’s prediction that its education funding reforms will create 10,000 extra university places for healthcare students will not be enough to deal with the current nurse shortage, according to the Royal College of Nursing.
Under plans announced yesterday by the chancellor, undergraduate nurses in England will in future have to fund their studies and day-to-day costs through a loan.
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It will replace the current bursary that nursing students receive from the government for both their tuition fees and some maintenance costs.
“It might not move us as far forward as you initially think to address the shortage”
The changes will also apply to midwifery and allied health professional students and are expected to come into effect for new students beginning in the 2017-18 academic year.
Announcing the reform as part of the government’s spending plans for the next five years, George Osborne said the change would stop the current restriction on the number of training places offered by universities, which are limited by how much central funding they receive each year.
The chancellor also said the new funding system would mean student nurses have more money up front for living costs.
For example, according to the Council of Deans of Health, students outside of London and living away from the parental home would see the maximum amount they could receive per year increase from £6,975 under the bursary system to £9,257 via a move to loans – a 33% rise.
But the Royal College of Nursing’s head of policy Howard Catton said that, while the move to loans should allow more nurses to be trained, it would still not be enough to create a “sustainable” workforce.
“Where we need to move to would be to have numbers of training places that are around 25,000 a year”
Mr Catton noted that, of the 10,000 extra training places mooted by the chancellor, around 6,000 could be expected to be for nurses, while the rest would go to midwifery and AHP students based on the proportions of the workforce.
It would amount to around 2,000 extra nurse training places – on top of the 20,000 student nurses that train annually at the moment – on average every year from 2017 onwards.
But the RCN predicted that England actually needed to be training 25,000 nurses each year.
“It is highly unlikely to be 10,000 nurses. If it’s proportionate to the number of AHPs and midwives we have at the moment, then we might be looking more at 6,000 over the three years,” Mr Catton told Nursing Times.
“So it might not move us as far forward as you initially think to address the shortage,” he added.
“Where we need to move to would be to have numbers of training places that are around 25,000 a year…That is where we need to be to put ourselves in a place where we have a more sustainable workforce,” said Mr Catton.
Although he welcomed the government’s recognition there was a shortage of nurses, he questioned whether the reforms would actually result in a boost to the workforce, even if universities did increase their course places as a result of the reforms.
Mr Catton pointed to the “immediate risk” that the prospect of debts from loans might deter people from applying for a low paid profession such as nursing.
“The key question is – will it do what is says on the tin? Will it increase numbers [of nurses] and put more money in the hands of student nurses?” he said.
Meanwhile, the chair of the Council of Deans of Health has told Nursing Times that it was an “achievable” target for universities to create 10,000 extra training places by 2020.
It was possible because it would bring the number of training places back up to around the same level last seen in around 2009, she said.
Government-funded training places have risen in recent years following a period of cutbacks.