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Limits on nurse training numbers should be reformed, argues Civitas

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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”

Edmund Stubbs

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.

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”

Edmund Stubbs

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.

  • 14 Comments

Readers' comments (14)

  • So student nurses would be the only group to have their loans AUTOMATICALLY deducted if they qualify and work in the NHS. Other groups can wait years to earn a reasonable amount of money before repaying their loans. This will be a real incentive to training and working in the NHS!!!
    The other point is that apparently there are many more people wanting to train, great - but where will all the placements and mentors come from?
    So pleased I've retired and not considering training now.

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  • How can this credibly be reported as authored by Civitas given the timing with the spending review? It's beyond coincidence.

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  • Would this not affect alot of career changers? I am currently a student nurse and would not have been able to get a student loan due to having already completed a degree. I didn't get a student loan first time round as I worked my bum off but if I wanted to do a second degree I still would not be able to apply for a loan as you can only access this if it's your first time. A significant number of my peers would all be in the same situation. This would be a real shame as I absolutely love what I'm doing. As do many of my fellow student friends!

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  • these 'hard to fill' specialities at the moment many of the universities offering nursing education do not cover all four branches of nursing never mind hard to fill specialities and once you have enrolled you can't change the branch of nursing you are on (at least at the university I am attending) so it is difficult to focus on interests that you have experianced through placement, Will current students be protected from this change or will I suddenly find myself unable to fund my third year of course due to already having a degree? Loans are already reduced for student nurses due to us spending longer per year in university than other student groups so surely they would require a higher loan payment? I'm just not sure they have thought this through. Student nurses are saying our bursaries arnt't enough to cover living costs esspecially if we are independent, so now that will be reduced further to loan levels? how is anyone going to afford to be a student nurse?

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  • Are they hoping people will go up to Scotland, make use of the system, the bring themselves back down to England & Wales?

    I always hope that those countries that are plundered for their labour will start a back-lash against the old Empire. What Briton wants other people used for convenience and for home-based people to struggle to train or remain within the system in their working-life?

    The use and abuse of people in this country is legend.

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  • “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.

    I thought we were supposed to be supernumerary as student nurses....

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  • I'm slightly confused as to why the picture shows student nurses from the University of Edinburgh (in Scotland) when this article is referring to changes to the bursary in England (the systems are completely different).

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  • This does not even make sense! Introducing loans will most likely reduce the numbers of those who want to do nursing anyway. With the pittance that nurses are paid, why would one want to be lugging around a loan? The bursary works, please don't get rid of it!

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  • I think student nurses should be paid a wage, like I was in the early 80's, I think back then we had a more practical learning system in the schools of nursing, we did 2 weeks in school and 12 week placements where we learnt how to be nurses.
    I find it hard to believe that the student nurses these days will come out of university with the skills they need, ( I am a mentor ).

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  • Nursing has moved on since the 80's. Niursing is more complex, patients are living longer with more complex health needs.We need to have well educated University educated nurses in line with other members of the mult-disciplinary team such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy staff.They are not expected to go back to the pld days of training as we have moved on and use evidence based practice now! I still would recommend bursaries but if they are removed feel that the newly qualified nurse wage needs to increase greatly.

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