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Nursing shortage left to chance

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Left to Chance, report, nursing shortage, RCN, UCAS, EU right to stay, bursaries, fair pay‘The government knows that when there aren’t enough nurses, patients can pay the very highest price.’

The number of students starting nursing degree courses is likely to fall again this year unless the government takes urgent action, a report from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said.

And given this crisis, the government must assure the tens of thousands of EU nurses and carers working across the UK that they have the right to stay as the date for exit from the EU gets closer.

The RCN’s report, ‘Left to chance: The Health and Care Nursing Workforce Supply in England’, contains new figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), which showed the current number of applications for the next academic year has fallen by a third since the same point in 2016, and by 13 per cent since last year.

This is despite the government’s attempts to boost the number of trainee nurses following the publication of the Francis Report five years ago after the poor standards of care exposed at the trust’s Stafford Hospital made national headlines in 2009 and horrified the public and NHS staff alike.

Changes to the funding of nurse training – including the removal of the student bursary – were announced in 2015 as ‘a way to increase nurse numbers’, and last year ministers repeatedly announced extra nurse training places, but the RCN’s analysis shows they are not finding enough students to fill them.

In addition to the university student shortages, the new nursing apprenticeship attracted only 30 trainees – against a government ambition of 1,000 apprentices for this year.

As a result, the RCN said, urgent action is needed to prevent the staffing crisis from getting even worse.

It has eight key recommendations:

1 – A long-term workforce strategy

2 – Safe staffing legislation

3 – Data monitoring and collection

4 – A high-profile recruitment campaign

5 – Targeted funding for potential students

6 – Reverse cuts to continuing professional development

7 – Invest in postgraduate pre-registration routes

8 – Fully funded nursing degree apprenticeships

The report also says a nationwide government campaign is urgently needed to encourage would-be nursing students to apply before the summer in order to boost the numbers joining England’s nursing workforce in 2021.

The RCN’s Chief Executive and General Secretary, Janet Davies, said: “Five years after the warnings and lessons in the Mid Staffs report, the government is still squandering the chance to address the issue – making care failings more likely, not less.

“The government knows that when there aren’t enough nurses, patients can pay the very highest price.

“Nursing is now a graduate profession but it lacks a graduate salary that compensates for the fees paid.

“With fair pay and other incentives, ministers must redouble efforts to get students into nursing courses this year.”

‘Left to chance’ also calls for a range of incentives to encourage people into nursing, including a central funding pot in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to help with students’ costs; more incentives for post-graduates to convert to nursing; and the DHSC and the Treasury to cover the cost of apprenticeships to encourage greater uptake by NHS employers.

To read the full report, click here.

The RCN has also said that the government must assure the tens of thousands of EU nurses and carers working across the UK that they have the right to stay as the date for exit from the EU gets closer.

More than 60,000 EU citizens work in England’s NHS while the NHS already has at least 40,000 too few nurses and not enough home grown nurses being trained to fill the gaps.

These staff, the RCN said, must also be told how desperately the NHS and social care system needs them.

These comments were made in response to the Home Affairs Select Committee report on Brexit and immigration which highlights the devastating impact on the NHS of continued uncertainty for many health care workers.

And the RCN agreed that simply extending the current immigration system will not address the problem, as prioritising visas based on salary levels fails to recognise the benefits of international nurses to our society and economy.

The RCN has called on the government to consult on immigration arrangements for after Brexit while the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) assesses the impact on public services.

Davies said: “In some hospitals, one in five NHS workers have EU passports – if there is a Brexit cliff-edge in migration, it will be the NHS going over it.

“The number of nurses coming from EU countries has plummeted in the last 18 months and, rather than redoubling her efforts to attract more, Theresa May told them they have even fewer rights if they arrive during the transition period.”

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