The Government should introduce ‘cost of living’ grants for student nurses if they want to reduce the workforce shortfall, a new report has suggested.
The report, entitled Closing the gap, a joint effort from The Nuffield Trust, The Health Foundation and The King’s Fund, laid out ‘high-impact’ policy ideas to help tackle the predicted shortfall of 108,000 full-time equivalent nurses – the figure estimated for 10 years’ time if current trends continue.
But these ideas can only be realised with an extra £900m per year of funding by 2023/24 for Health Education England (HEE), it states.
The report’s policies included obtaining an extra 5,000 nurses joining the NHS from training each year by 2021.
It says this could be achieved by introducing ‘cost of living’ grants of around £5,200 for nursing students, on top of the means-tested loan system, and covering the cost of tuition fees to triple the number of nurses training as postgraduates.
Bringing in these grants will also help to reduce the drop-out rate of those in training by a third, the authors added.
In addition, they estimated that an additional 5,000 internationally recruited nurses will be needed each year until 2023/24 to ‘avoid nurse staff shortages acting as a major brake on the delivery of the NHS long-term plan’.
The authors say this means the Government will need to make wide exceptions to new salary restrictions in the Immigration White Paper – the skills-based immigration system set out in December 2018, marking the end of free movement – and fund the visa costs incurred by NHS trusts.
Other recommendations included encouraging more nurses to join the NHS once they qualify, and ‘resetting the balance’ of clinical placement funding so that the money received by trusts for nurse clinical placements is closer to the level of funding received for medical placements.
Without decisive action like this, nurse shortages will double to 70,000 and GP shortages in England will almost triple to 7,000 by 2023/24, according to projections for the report, rendering the NHS Long Term Plan ‘impossible to achieve’.
Commenting on the report, which comes ahead of the Workforce Implementation Plan expected next month, Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: ‘The NHS doesn’t have enough nurses today and without action this problem is going to get significantly worse over the coming years.
‘The workforce is the make or break issue for the health service and unless staffing shortages are substantially reduced the recent NHS Long Term Plan can only be a wish list.
‘But if the NHS is to have access to the skilled health workers it needs, the Government must stop seeing funding for the workforce as a cost to be minimised and prioritise investment in training more staff.’
Dame Donna Kinnair, acting chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the numbers in the report were ‘staggering’.
She continued: ‘This report should cause alarm in Whitehall and focus the minds of ministers on the cash they must put on the table to close the gaps. Nursing staff are the first to admit that, despite straining every sinew, the care of their patients is too routinely compromised by these shortages.
‘It’s good to see the think-tanks echoing our argument that the supply of nurses cannot be increased without very significant new funding for undergraduate and postgraduate nursing courses. The RCN is calling for immediate investment by the Government of at least £1bn into nurse higher education to encourage more people to train to become nurses.
‘But as the report rightly points out, increasing the number of students in nurse education will also require a big expansion in the number of clinical placements available for students as part of their courses, something hospitals and community nursing employers aren’t currently in a position to provide.’
The report follows a speech from NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens last week, who stated that addressing the shortfall in nurses will require ‘meaningful expansion’ of undergraduate places at university.