A new report from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) published today explores the investment needed to increase numbers entering the profession in England over the long term.
The report, Beyond the Bursary: Workforce Supply, details the long-term investment needed in higher education to help address the shortage of nursing staff, and the wider benefits this could bring.
In 2017, the government removed the nursing bursary in England, which had supported students as they studied to become qualified nurses. Following a subsequent and continuing decline in nursing degree applicants, the Government announced an annual maintenance grant of between £5,000 and £8,000 per student from this September.
While this year has seen a small uplift in applications, they are still down by 17% from 2016/17 – the final year in which student nurses did not have to pay their own fees.
This fall comes amid wider concerns about nursing numbers. Going into the pandemic, there are approximately 40,000 unfilled nursing vacancies in the NHS in England alone.
Furthermore, a survey of approximately 42,000 RCN members in England published last week showed that 36% were thinking of leaving the profession – up from 27% at the end of 2019.
The RCN says that to increase the number of nursing graduates in England, the Government must provide appropriate support both on entering and throughout the degree. It must also demonstrate that the nursing profession is valued by widening support to include those who have missed out due to the removal of the old funding model and will not receive the full benefit from the new maintenance grants.
The RCN therefore urges the Government, with immediate effect, to:
- reimburse tuition fees or forgive current debt for all nursing, midwifery, and allied health care students impacted by the removal of the bursary
- abolish self-funded tuition fees for all nursing, midwifery, and allied health care students starting in 2020/21 and beyond
- introduce universal, living maintenance grants that reflect actual student need.
Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said:
“The pandemic has shone a light like never before on the work of nurses. It also saw many thousands of student nurses come forward to provide their services across the NHS. Yet when they finish their training they will be left with tens of thousand of pounds of debt which, for many, will never be paid off.
“There are simply not enough nurses being trained in this country and we can no longer rely on recruiting from overseas. Unless urgent action is taken, we could see vacancy numbers reach 100,000 by the end of the decade.
“Now is the time to grow our domestic workforce supply and properly invest in the training of new nurses to deliver safe and effective care in every acute and community setting, in both health and social care, across the country.”
Jessica Sainsbury, Chair of the RCN’s Students’ Committee, said:
“Everyone who wants to become a nurse should be encouraged and supported to do so, and all financial barriers must be removed. I and my fellow nursing students urge the Government to fund our future nurses to build a nursing workforce that meets patient needs for the long term.”