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The future is bright for recruitment – but we must do more

Mark Radford

Recruitment is never less than a key focus in nursing.

In early July, UCAS announced that applications for nursing degrees had risen by 15% in the last year. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a significant and sustained increase in the number of people looking for a career in healthcare and, more specifically, nursing.

As a nurse and passionate advocate for our brilliant profession, I’m really pleased to see this positive development after a decline in recent years in applications to study nursing.  Over the coming months, we will continue to work alongside universities to ensure we can provide whatever additional support is required.  I’m also keen to see how these statistics will stack up when it comes to specific areas such as mental health and learning disability nursing. I’m hopeful that this upward trend will extend to those areas where there is still a very clear level of need in the workforce.

That nurses have been at the heart of the response to Covid-19 – whether they’ve been working in in care homes, communities, mental health, general practice, prison or hospital settings – is without question. With this renewed spotlight on nursing during the pandemic, the fact that so many people are choosing our profession is testament to the respect and admiration that people have for nurses, and for the opportunities that a career in nursing can offer.

While this announcement is heartening news, applying for a nursing degree is just the first step in an individual’s journey towards registration. Those people who are choosing to join our profession need and deserve the right support to nurture and guide them through any challenges they may face along the way.

Steps forward for nursing recruitment

Making sure that students have wide-ranging placements both within and outside the NHS is essential in enabling them to use the knowledge and skills they’ve learned at university and apply them in a practical setting. This is why Health Education England (HEE) is providing £10m to expand the number of placements for people studying nursing, midwifery and allied health professions. We are working collaboratively with universities, the NHS and other system providers to ensure these placements are provided in the areas of most need across the country. Applications from placement providers have just closed and we will be able to share more information about these in the next few months.

We know that a student’s experience of their clinical placement has a major impact on whether they decide to stay on a course, in particular their relationship with their supervisors. It can also be a big factor in their decisions about their first destination employer. There are many additional reasons why students may choose to leave their courses and through our Reducing Pre-Registration Attrition and Improving Retention (RePAIR) work we have identified a range of factors that can impact on their ability to complete their nursing degrees. We have been exploring these themes in more depth – including valuing Year 2 students, the culture of care, understanding student confidence and early career choices – to really be able to provide them with the best support. Based on this, we will be working to implement a range of initiatives to reduce attrition and improve retention that we will be able to share very soon.

Support shouldn’t stop as soon as a nurse has registered, however.  Newly-qualified nurses deserve the right levels of support as they make their transition into the workforce and beyond – preceptorship, continued professional development and help in choosing the pathway that’s right for them. The interface between university and employment is critical and we are working to build on the national retention programme with NHS England Chief People Officer, Prerana Issar, leading additional work as part of the NHS’s People Plan.

A few weeks ago, the Nursing and Midwifery Council reported its largest ever annual increase in registered nursing and midwifery professionals with a total of 716,607 nurses, midwives and nursing associates now on the permanent register – over 18,000 more than last year. The increase in numbers of nursing professionals on the register and in the number of applications for nursing degrees are potentially very good news for our profession:  If we as a system can ensure the right steps are in place to support our current and future workforce in education and through their careers, then our profession can only continue to flourish.

We must ensure that is the case.

Read more about nursing recruitment here: Chief nurse urges students to consider nursing during ‘uncertain times’