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Supplying the Demand for Nurses: The need to end the rationing of nurse training places

Edmund Stubbs, November 2015

Every year, substantial numbers of nurses are recruited from overseas despite nursing courses in the UK being vastly over-subscribed. This has led to a situation where many, well qualified young people in this country are denied the opportunity to become nurses. This yearly limit on nurse education places also puts the NHS in a weak position for hiring and retaining staff as nurses, knowing they are in short supply, can work for agencies that charge substantially higher fees to supply the public sector with staff. It seems nonsensical that we are still obliged to limit nurse university places, as well as those for other allied health professional roles, simply due to a lack of NHS funding.

This paper proposes reforming the present financing of nurse education, under which tuition fees and living bursaries are paid up front, and replacing it with a system whereby nursing undergraduates would take out student loans as with any other course. The NHS would then pay back the loan for nursing graduates if they work for the organisation after qualification. This would be to the exact same cash value as current course funding. All tuition fees and some level of living costs (to the level financed by current bursaries) would be reimbursed via monthly loan repayment premiums to each new graduate working for the organisation.

‘…it is perverse to limit training places when there is a shortage of nurses, to deny the opportunity to train as a nurse to so many bright, enthusiastic UK citizens while the NHS is forced to recruit high numbers from overseas…’

The reform would remove the need for a limit on nurse numbers. Nurses who work in the private sector are likely to similarly have their student debt repaid as companies compete with the NHS to recruit nurses. In addition, ending centralised limits puts the NHS in a better position when recruiting nurses as increased workforce competition would ensure agencies are no longer able to hold the NHS to ransom.

About the Author

Edmund Stubbs is Healthcare Researcher at Civitas. He studied Biomedical Science at the University of Sheffield and has a Master’s degree in Health, Population and Society from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Edmund also worked as a healthcare assistant for four years at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, and as a freelance health consultant for one year.

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