As concerns grow over nursing shortages caused by Brexit, NHS England has announced a new training program with the intention of addressing the situation.
The Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, has already conceded that the healthcare system is hugely reliant on international professionals.
This includes around 12,000 nurses who are EU nationals, a significant proportion of the 350,000 total nurses on the NHS payroll.
Speaking to the BBC, Stevens asserted that the training program has the potential to “grow the workforce from within this country”.
This new initiative follows official figures indicating that over 17,000 EU nationals, which include both doctors and nurses, left the NHS system in the last 12 months.
Stevens was asked by the BBC whether he is concerned about the impact of these individuals leaving the NHS system, and responded thus:
“The NHS has always relied on international staff as well as staff from this country. It is about 4% of our nurses who come from the rest of the European Union. We are grateful for the work that they do.”
However, the chief executive also believes that British nurses can play a major role in plugging the staffing gap in nursing.
“We have got a curious situation where many more people in this country would like to train to be nurses than we have nurse training places. So we want to expand the number of nurse training places and the routes into nursing so that we can grow the workforce from within this country as well.”
Stevens also stated that the new training programme will borrow from a previous initiative utilised to recruit more teachers.
“We are announcing a new programme called Nurse First, which is the equivalent of the Teach First programme, whereby new graduates can fast-track into nursing alongside other apprenticeship routes…so that we can expand the number of nurses we have.”
The programme will create 2,200 qualified nurses on an annual basis by the end of the decade, roughly when Britain is likely to exit the European Union.
Stevens also denied claims from the Royal College of Surgeons that the NHS has permanently abandoned the 18-week waiting time targets for non-urgent operations.
It had been asserted by the chief executive that the prioritisation of operations must take place in order to ensure that cancer patients and those seeking Accident and Emergency treatment could be seen more speedily.
In a wide-ranging interview, Stevens denied he was abandoning the 18-week waiting time target for non-urgent operations by relaxing the deadline for hospitals.
Stevens also announced the ending of the £4 million annual expenditure on homoeopathic medicine, describing the practice as “placebo at best”.