Associate nurses should not be seen as a “quick fix” for the NHS’s nursing shortage, according to a Health Foundation report.
The report, Staffing matters; funding counts, says that while a shortage of 28,000 nurses could derail the Five Year Forward View, introducing a new role will not solve the problem.
The report warns that there has not been enough discussion around how training will be funded, how many of these nurses will be required and to what timeline.
“The reliance on quick fixes will only put a sticking plaster on deep-seated and systemic problems for the NHS,” the report says.
Furthermore, the report highlights the “mixed” track record of the NHS in implementing new roles, including the physician assistant, which was piloted 10 years ago and is still not widely implemented.
“At a time when the NHS is trying to control a rapid increase in staffing costs, the fiscal space to support any rapid large-number scale up of a ‘new’ role is just not evident,” says the report.
This forms just part of a wider failure to understand the link between funding allocation and workforce levels, leading to a “boom and bust” approach to the NHS frontline.
Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: “Funding constraints and workforce shortages without a doubt present the greatest risks to the delivery of the Five Year Forward View – and the longer-term sustainability of our NHS.
“The current approach to workforce policy needs to be overhauled so that staffing and funding are treated as two sides of the same coin.
“The recent decision for the UK to leave the EU will create additional challenges – both in terms of finances and the ability to attract and retain valuable European staff.
“We urgently need a fully aligned and coordinated national approach to workforce policy and planning, underpinned by greater predictability on funding, to ensure the NHS can sustain high quality health care for the long term.”
The report, however, is optimistic that the new student nurse bursary proposals could lead to an increase in the number of student nurses.
Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) data shows that demand for student nurse places exceeds the supply of funded places and removing the funding cap could lead to an increased intake.
However, the Health Foundation adds that this would depend on the attraction of nursing as a career and the availability of high-quality training placements.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said: “This is another report which reveals the scale of the workforce challenge facing the health service.
“Cuts to student nurse commissions and a lack of long-term workforce planning have caused this crisis. It could be worsened by the Government’s untested gamble with student nurse funding which our members are clear will have a negative impact on the future supply of graduate nurses, who are vital for delivering safe patient care.
“The report also correctly identifies the risks of focusing too much on the introduction of new roles rather than investing in the current workforce.
“Years of boom and bust workforce planning mean the UK is completely unprepared to deal with the challenges posed by an ageing workforce, increasing demand, and now the uncertainty caused by leaving the European Union.
“The Government claims there are more nurses working in the NHS, but these statistics don’t change the reality of cash-strapped Trusts relying on expensive agency staff, or patients waiting for hours in A&E.
“This must not be yet another report on workforce shortages which is ignored. Safe and sustainable patient care in the future will only be possible with long-term planning and investment today.”
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