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Invest in professional development to staunch loss of NHS nurses, urge MPs

Far too little done to retain them; reverse trends with time and money, says Select Committee report

Caroline White

Friday, 26 January 2018

The NHS must invest in the continuing professional development of its nurses if it is to stem the serious shortfall of these professionals within the NHS, say MPs today in a report* into the nursing workforce.

Far too little attention has been paid to nurse retention, with the result that more nurses are now leaving the NHS than joining it. And it’s time to reverse these trends with time and money, says the Health Select Committee report.

Earlier this week, figures from NHS Digital highlighted high vacancy rates for nursing and midwifery staff across the NHS.

There are many causes for the shortfall, including workload pressures, pay, and a general sense of not feeling valued, says the report. But the evidence submitted to the Committee’s inquiry clearly showed that poor access to continuing professional development (CPD) ranks among them.

The report calls for Health Education England to reverse cuts to nurses’ CPD budgets. Funding allocated to trusts should be specifically ring-fenced for CPD for nurses, and specific funds should be allocated to supporting CPD for nurses working in the community, it says.

The Committee also recommends that further assurances be given to nurses from other EU nations that they will be able to remain in the UK with their families after Brexit. Nursing should remain on the Shortage Occupation List, says the Committee.

The report urges the government to closely monitor the impact of the removal of nursing bursaries. It is concerned about the emerging indicators of the impact of bursaries on mature students, and recommends action be taken to address high attrition rates from degree courses and the level of variation.

Unite, the union, agrees. Unite head of health Sarah Carpenter said: “We feel that the foot needs to be put firmly on the accelerator in addressing the shortages of nurses, health visitors and community nurses. One of the best ways would be to immediately reintroduce bursaries for those wishing to train as the nurses of tomorrow.”

She added: “Abolishing the bursaries last summer was a big mistake and we now have a situation where student nurses face the prospect of chalking up debts of £50,000 during their three-year course – that’s short-sighted and blinkered thinking by the government.”

There was no time to waste, she said. “The evidence of nursing shortages from NHS Digital is already stark and alarming.”

Adam Roberts, head of Economics at the Health Foundation said: “The report echoes the Health Foundation’s calls for more accurate and timely workforce data to allow better planning based on local and national demands, as well as a more effective approach to identifying and addressing the reasons for the high and variable levels of student nurse attrition.

“The concerns raised here for nursing are reflected across many areas of the health and care workforce. This report adds to the growing consensus that there is an urgent need for comprehensive and nationally led workforce planning. This should be based on long-term demand rather than being driven by short-term finances. The government and Health Education England must set out how they will achieve this in their health and care workforce strategy.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said the report had come at “a very crucial time,” adding that the recruitment and retention of nurses was “absolutely key for the NHS to provide first class care in the 21st century.”

A great deal of work was already under way to address this, he said. But he acknowledged, "As the committee observe however, more action is needed and there is an urgent need to reverse the disinvestment we have seen in continuing professional development (CPD) funding."

Health Select Committee chair, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, pledged to revisit the subject in a year “to make sure that improvements have been made in nurse retention, working conditions, and continuing professional development."

*The nursing workforce. Second Report of Session 2017-19, a report orded by the House of Commons, Health Committee, January 2018.

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