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Clinical placements to increase by 25% as part of NHS workforce plan

The NHS will expand clinical placements for student nurses by 25% in efforts to increase undergraduate nursing supply, according to the interim workforce plan published today.  

It will work with universities to review acceptance rates following the placement capacity increase, which will see 5,000 more places available in clinical settings for students on nursing courses.

The current acceptance rate stands at 55% , but in order to take advantage of the increase in clinical placements, the report says this must rise to around 70%.

It follows calls from The Open University called on higher education institutions to lower nursing degree entry requirements, but the interim plan was clear that it is 'critical' that current standards are retained to ensure patient safety is not affected.   

The plan will also see the NHS work with universities and other course providers to reduce student attrition from nursing, ensuring that every student is 'well prepared' for each practice placement.

Currently, 33.35% of students starting an adult nursing course do not complete it within three years, although this does not represent a true reflection of attrition as some students go on to complete their course a year or two later.

The report, entitled the interim NHS People Plan, calls for 'urgent' action to tackle nursing vacancies, particularly in primary and community, mental health and learning disability settings. It outlines ambitions to grow the nursing workforce by over 40,000 by 2024 and reduce vacancy levels to 5% by 2028 in order to support the delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan. 

As part of an aim to provide clear pathways into nursing, the new nursing associate role will continue to be developed, with the NHS committed to start training a further 7,500 during 2019. This continues work from 2018/19 where 5,000 trainee nursing associates started training, building on the nearly 2,000 now qualified.

Short-term vacancies will be filled with increased international recruitment, the plan states, with Health Education England working to 'build global partnerships and exchanges'. A new procurement framework will be developed in 2019/20 that will approve international recruitment agencies for employers to draw from, to enable international recruitment to take place 'at pace and scale'.

Other strategies outlined in the plan to increase the nursing workforce include:

  • Working with partners to consider how to support the growth of the primary and community workforce by September 2019, in order to inform the next spending review. 
  • Strengthening the perception of nursing, with a single national campaign that reflects the realities of a career in nursing developed by June 2019 with the intention to run through to March 2020.  
  • Expanding the NHS ambassador network, particularly targeting 15-to-17-year olds, in order to increase applications to nursing degrees. 

The full version of the People Plan, to be published later in the year, will detail further actions to increase nursing supply, including the potential for a blended nursing degree programme where the theoretical component is partly delivered online.

The plan confirmed steps revealed by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens to achieve a phased restoration of previous funding levels for CPD, and built on the NHS Long Term Plan's pledge for a two-year fellowship scheme offered to new nurses entering general practice, which will see new GPNs offered a secure contract of employment.

Royal College of Nursing director in England Patricia Marquis said that judgement will be reserved until the full version of the plan is published.

She said: 'This document begins to tackle the real issues but many will reserve final judgement until funding levels and practical details are revealed.

The NHS - and the people who use it - deserve a detailed solution to the current crisis, including a new legal framework on accountability for the workforce. When there are 40,000 unfilled nurse jobs in England, we need to see urgency from Ministers.

'To attract the very best professionals into nursing and the NHS, it must be a world class employer that pays fair salaries, pensions and demonstrates the flexibility employees increasingly need and expect.'