Date: 8th Aug 2016
Never has there been a time of so much change that will impact on the future of the NHS.
The changes in the funding of training nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals students did not come as a shock to many universities as the status quo was not a viable option in the current financial climate.
However, I have been concerned about the lack of clarity around steps being taken to mitigate against the impact of the funding changes. In the period between the Government's announcement in November and the end of the consultation in June, there was little to alleviate the concerns from prospective students, employers and universities.
Some believe that recruitment numbers will fall because the average age of nursing students is 28-years-old, many of whom may have dependents and be debt averse. And yet the Government predicts that there will be 10,000 more nursing students although we have yet to see the evidence for those figures.
The removal of the cap on student nursing places, another key element of the proposed reform, does not necessarily mean all universities will increase the number of student recruits. The number will in reality be governed by the availability of clinical placements and the non-medical tariff to support these placements. There are still questions around how the tariff money will be managed and HEE are planning geographical workshops to inform the outcome due to be reported in the Autumn.
'Stamping of feet'
There was a collective 'stamping of feet' after the announcement last November about the negative impact of the proposals but now is the time to put the matter into perspective and focus on the future.
And perhaps this future is not as bleak as some first feared when the changes were announced. At our recent open days we heard prospective students say: 'I want to be a nurse and if that means taking on a loan like other university students then so be it.'
However, universities must recognise that the prospect of a large debt at the end of their training will be a very daunting issue for many people. We have an important role to play to ensure that our prospective students understand the funding process, what the loan means to them and what support funding is available. The benefits of a career in healthcare, even if now self-funded, also need to be highlighted.
There is an argument that because students now have to invest in their degrees there will be less attrition. This may be the case but what is sure to happen is increased levels of expectation from students around not only their academic study but also the quality of their placements.
Bucks New University
At Buckinghamshire New University, we are proud of our strong model which ensures that our students' placements are an effective part of their training. We achieve this by working in partnership with our students' mentors in Trusts and by ensuring students receive regular visits from link lecturers during their placements.
It's also important to consider the impact of the proposed reforms on those who wish to pursue postgraduate prequalifying programmes. Under the new system, students applying for these courses will not be eligible for student loans.
However this has been addressed in part following the recent consultation, with a proposed extension to the bursary for 2017/18 for these students, with further review to be published in the Autumn. If this is not addressed, recruitment on these programmes is very likely to drop with more students opting to undertake a second degree instead.
Clearly this is neither cost effective nor supportive of a climate in which health professionals are encouraged to engage in continuous professional development for the benefit of their own careers and the patients for whom they care. Such programmes are highly valued by employers and I believe that an exception should be made to enable these courses to fall under the student loans system.
Nursing students are a key part of the workforce team and integral to the future health of the NHS. The change in health education funding is here to stay and universities must be flexible and agile in responding to these developments in a positive way. Likewise, service providers must focus on quality enhancement of practice learning placements for students.
The NHS is on the brink of a period of change and with this comes uncertainty. For my part, I am determined to ensure that we continue to provide a first class experience to our nursing students of today and tomorrow. These students are the future of our nursing workforce and we must all do everything we can to support their learning journey.
Picture caption: Sue West, Dean - Faculty of Society & Health.