Health Foundation Calls for Nursing Contingency Plan

The Health Foundation has asserted that it is essential for any plan to abolish bursaries to be accompanied by a contingency plan to deal with a predicted fall in the number of applications for training places.

Despite massive opposition, the Department of Health has already indicated that it will proceed with proposals to replace bursaries with student loans.

This is despite opposition from bodies including the Royal College of Nurses, Unite, the Patients Association and NHS Clinical Commissioners (NHSCC).

In a blog post, Toby Watt, a finance analyst at the Health Foundation, said that there is currently “an overwhelming demand” for nursing training, with UCAS data showing that 57,000 students applied for 21,450 places in 2015.

Watt believes that if reforms are unable to deliver an additional 3,300 health professional training places on an annual basis, as has been promised by the government, an average of 2,046 of these will be for nurses, leaving 2.4 applicants for every training place.

Yet many healthcare analysts believe that the new system will discourage applicants from entering the nursing profession, particularly those from economically disadvantaged areas.

London Economics and Unite have estimated that the scrapping of bursaries will cause a 71% increase in costs for students, possibly dissuading some individuals from training to qualify as a nurse.

Watt asserted that the situation is uncertain, and that the nursing stock of the NHS could be seriously damaged.

“We can’t be certain what the future holds. The removal of the bursaries must therefore be accompanied with a plan for what happens if the number of applicants does fall by 60% or more. Training more nurses is essential, and this reform will help liberalise the labour market so it can react more efficiently and help meet the growing demand for clinical staff. However, the long-term success of these reforms will depend on nursing becoming an attractive career option.”

Already some of the most authoritative bodies involved with the healthcare system have made predictions regarding the impact of the bursary scheme.

NHS Improvement has estimated that the shortfall of nurses needed as a result of the new policy could be as high as 189,000.

And some critics have suggested that the scrapping of bursaries will lead to 40% of potential candidates aged over 25 deciding against entering the profession.

NHSCC has also warned that an increase in student nurses is not necessarily a good thing because new applicants could be chosen “based upon the ability to pay rather than the key values and skills required in the nursing profession”.

Nonetheless, the government continues to insist that this policy will be followed through, despite the seemingly large impact on the nursing profession and ultimately the NHS.


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