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Workforce plans require a ‘meaningful expansion in undergraduate nursing’

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has claimed that increasing the number of undergraduate nurses is central to NHS England plans for alleviating workforce issues.

Speaking at the Chief Nursing Officer for England’s Summit, he said that there is ‘no substitute’ for graduate nurses, despite the ‘wonderful nursing associates’ currently working within the NHS.

He described the nursing workforce and GP workforce ‘questions’ as ‘the two litmus tests as to whether we can get done what we want to see [with the NHS Long Term Plan]’.

But he cautioned that any increase in students on undergraduate nursing courses would have to be aligned with an increase in the number and availability of clinical placements.

He said: ‘We have seen this big fall in the number of applications for undergraduate nursing. But there is still this paradox where we have 30,600 applications and yet we are turning applicants away.

‘So the practical steps we have to take are that we have to work with the universities and the higher education providers, and we have to ensure that the clinical placements that we need for nursing expansion are actually available’.

Mr Stevens said that the work in making clinical placements available also rests on regional directors around the country, as well as with NHS England.

He added: ‘It’s all very well identifying, as we are going to do, the funding for clinical placement expansion, but we need the directors of nursing and HR directors locally and regionally to work with HEIs to say “come on guys, we can actually commit to new undergraduate places and we will be able to give you clinical placements”’.