An “urgent” assessment of the reasons student nurses leave their undergraduate degrees is required to stop NHS education funding from being wasted, according to the chair of a major review of nurse training.
Local and national attrition rates at universities should be tracked on an annual basis and a standardised tool for exit interviews must be developed, said the Shape of Caring Review in its key recommendations.
“We are losing just over 20% during the student journey. The cost of that is phenomenal”
This “Achilles heel of the nursing world” must be addressed immediately to ensure NHS money is not being needlessly used to train increasing numbers of students, said Lord Willis of Knaresborough, who chaired the review.
He said the average drop out rate for student nurses at universities in England was more than 20%, but warned some places in fact had up to 50% attrition.
“We are losing just over 20% during the student journey. The cost of that is phenomenal just on the caring side, never mind the monetary side,” he told Nursing Times. “We talk about having to recruit 20,000 more nurses, well we can do that if we can retain more people.”
“So we’ve asked Health Education England to record on an annual basis during the student journey about the student experience to find out where universities are not doing well, where individual placements are not doing well, or where there are problems with mentoring which you can then do something about,” he added.
Lord Willis said it cost over £70,000 to train a student nurse and that the money saved from funding increasing numbers of students at this cost – to plug the gap created by those who do not complete degrees – could be better used on the existing and trainee workforce.
“I want [that money] to go toward preceptorship, supporting placements, for improved mentoring – all of which produces a better workforce that feels valued,” he said.
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Lord Willis also said there were problems around the lack of data on how many newly-qualified nurses choose not to register to practice and how long nurses stay in the profession for.
In addition, he called on the Nursing and Midwifery Council to record data from employers about how long nurses remain in the profession and their reasons for leaving.
“If in fact, let’s say a quarter of people who leave in the first five years do so because of maternity – the big question I would ask is how do we get them back? We’ve invested £78,000 in them,” he said.
It is also important to find out if nurses are leaving because employers are asking them to perform tasks outside of their competency without training, he said.
The Shape of Caring Review report, published today, makes 34 recommendations in total to improve future pre-registration and post-registration nurse education and training in England.
It was commissioned by Health Education England, after concerns were raised about standards in the wake of the Francis report into Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.
What did the Shape of Caring Review Recommend?
- HEE, working with higher education institutions (HEIs), should support the development of a standardised student minimum data set, which would enable the calculation of attrition rates at HEIs, local and national levels.
- HEE should work with HEIs to develop a standardised exit tool to explore in greater depth the causes for leaving the pre-registration programme. Such data should be reviewed and analysed urgently by HEE to inform future student nurse commissioning intentions and processes.