Student loans should be introduced for undergraduate nurses to end the current “non-sensical” system, which restricts university places and “deprives” many from entering education, a new report has claimed.
Trainee nurses should stop having their tuition fees funded by the government up front and instead receive loans that are paid back if they are employed by the NHS, said the report from think-tank Civitas.
“To limit nurse training places to a level below that required for an adequately functioning NHS makes little sense”
Such a move, it said, would stop the current limit on university training places for nurses, which is determined by the amount of funding provided by the government to national workforce planning Health Education England.
The report, published today, is the latest in a series of developments that have seemingly moved the future method of student nurse funding higher up the political agenda in recent months.
The Council of Deans of Health and Universities UK already favour the idea of moving from bursaries to loans, arguing the current system leaves the NHS dependent on what it can afford which contributes to recurrent workforce shortages.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that the Treasury is considering changes to the £5bn education and training budget held by Health Education England as part of this week’s comprehensive spending review. However, unions and students have attacked any move to do away with bursaries.
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The Civitas report pointed to the high demand for training from prospective nursing students, but said many were being denied places despite the shortage of qualified nurses across the country.
An estimated minimum 54,000 British people apply to study nursing each year, but last year only 21,769 were registered on courses, while for the current academic year 22,638 are expected to be accepted, it said.
“Some of these will be underqualified, but others who could have contributed much to the sector over long careers will, as a consequence, seek other occupations, often less suited to their ability and interest,” it claimed.
The current lack of newly-trained nurses means NHS trusts have been forced to recruit “substantial” numbers of overseas nurses and rely heavily on expensive agency staff, said the report, which is titled Supplying the Demand for Nurses.
It suggested the proposed new system would not only help to plug the gap of homegrown nurses, but would also provide an “immediate extra funding boost that the NHS sorely needs”, by freeing up £2bn over three years which is currently used for funding tuition fees up front.
The proposed system would also incentivise the private sector to pay for nurses’ tuition fees in a bid to compete with the NHS for staff, claimed the report.
Hard-to-fill specialities within the NHS could also see a recruitment boost if student nurses were offered faster repayments on their loans if they chose to go into these areas, it added
“The proposal to repay student loans is fair to nurses and will encourage them to stay within the institution that has trained them”
Meanwhile, the report suggested a new system would see placement providers paid less money for taking on student nurses.
It noted that under the current system, Health Education England pays on average £3,175 to placement providers for the equivalent of a year-long placement, which sees the organisation benefit from the trainee undertaking a “substantial body of unpaid work”.
“Under the propsed scheme, providers might have to accept less payment per student in return for having more of these completely unpaid but highly useful trainee nurses in their organisations,” said the report.
“To limit nurse training places to a level below that required for an adequately functioning NHS makes little sense either economically or politically,” said report author Edmund Stubbs.
“For a government committed to helping people ‘stand on their own two feet as the most effective poverty tackling measure’ it seems non-sensical to deprive thousands of enthusiastic young British people of a career in nursing while employing trained nurses from other countries to make up shortages, augmented by expensive and sometimes unreliable temporary staff,” he added.
“The proposal to repay student loans is fair to nurses and will encourage them to stay within the institution that has trained them,” added Mr Stubbs.