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MPs concerned funding changes for student nurses will deter applicants

MPs are concerned that proposed changes in funding student nurses and midwives could deter applicants as the NHS struggles to cope with the shortage of nurses.

Parliament's public affairs committee has called on the Department of Health (DH) and Health Education England to assess the likely impact of the change from offering nursing bursaries to student loans.

The call comes as the committee's report, Managing the supply of NHS clinical staff in England, published today says health bosses “need to get a better grip on the supply of clinical staff in order to address current and future workforce pressures.”

It said there was a shortfall of 5.9% or 50,000 clinical staff in 2014. The committee, headed by Meg Hillier MP (pictured), wants health bosses to consider how scrapping nursing bursaries will affect applications from different groups, such as mature students or parents and the number of overseas students.

It said the nursing shortage is predicted to continue for three years and although there have been three applicants chasing each nurse training place “there is no guarantee that this position will continue if the funding system is reformed”.

A DH spokeswoman said: "Our plans mean up to 10,000 more training places by the end of this parliament, with student nurses getting around 25% more financial support whilst they study.”

She said there had been a 15% increase in the number of student nurses, with 50,000 more training currently.

Health Education England said more than 1,000 nurses have completed their returners retraining.

The committee also said there was “no coherent attempt” to assess the number of staff needed for the seven-day NHS and no separate funding.

MPs said: “We are therefore far from convinced that the Department (of Health) has any assurance that the increase in funding will be sufficient to meet all of its policy objectives.”

The committee found NHS bosses have set unrealistic efficiency targets and cost-cutting trusts understated the number of staff they need.

The NHS was also hampered by unreliable data on the reasons why staff leave, with the proportion of nurses leaving the NHS rising from 6.8% in 2010-11 to 9.2% in 2014-15.

A DH spokeswoman said: "This report doesn't properly take account of the dramatic workforce increases we have delivered, or our clear plans to increase capacity in the future in order to deliver a safer, seven-day NHS.”

The committee also criticised schemes to retain staff which were “not well managed”.

Fewer nurses were returning to the NHS, with 2,700 fewer on average in 2014, compared with the previous decade.

The number of overseas nursing recruits had also dropped by 10,700 annually and nursing shortages were highest in London, the committee found.

The report highlighted “the lasting impact of poor planning on the nursing workforce and patient care,” said the Royal College of Nursing's chief executive Janet Davies.

She said: “If the NHS is to build a strong and sustainable workforce, then tackling issues like pay and working hours head on will be absolutely vital and the importance and value of nursing staff must be reflected in future health services plans across the board.”