Exclusive: ‘Major increase’ in placements for new student nurses

The total figure for new clinical placements available will be 5,764 – a 25% increase on the existing number, according to the government arms’-length bodies NHS England and NHS Improvement.

“Hospitals and community services have now offered universities a major increase in clinical placements”

Simon Stevens

As a result, the “major increase” in placements for new undergraduate nurses “should translate into thousands more student nurses later this year”, the leader of the NHS in England told Nursing Times.

Simon Stevens said: “As requested by the NHS Long Term Plan in January, hospitals and community services have now offered universities a major increase in clinical placements for new undergraduate nurses, which should translate into thousands more student nurses later this year.

“This is a boost not just for NHS patients but for the thousands of students who in previous years may have missed out on studying for one of the most important and rewarding careers in Britain,” said the NHS England chief executive.

NHS England

Simon Stevens

Simon Stevens

“We’ve also seen a surge in applications in the past year, notably including nearly a 10% jump in men choosing to be a nurse,” he added.

The successful boost in placement offers, from September this year, was revealed yesterday by Mr Stevens during a speech at the Health Foundation think tank in London.

The long-term plan for the health service stated that a 25% rise – equivalent to around 5,000 – in placement spaces was to be funded as part of a drive to help fill nursing undergraduate spots.

It also revealed a five-year NHS job guarantee after students qualified and further strategies for improving vacancy rates, including the potential introduction of an “online nursing degree”.

According to the plan, 22,200 applicants were accepted onto English nursing courses in 2018 and, while this was a higher number than in seven of the last 10 years, applications had still fallen.

In addition, it highlighted that across the UK 14,000 applicants to nursing were not accepted onto courses.

However, latest figures on applications to study nursing in England, published in February, showed a slight increase from last year – including a rise in male appicants – but that they were still down 30% since student bursaries were scrapped.

Official data shows 30,650 people had applied to an undergraduate degree nurse course in the country by the January 2019 deadline, a 4% rise from 29,390 at the same point in 2018.

Meanwhile, concerns about the overall nursing shortage have been ramped up in recent months. According to current estimates, there are around 40,000 vacancies for nurses in the NHS in England.

A draft version of the workforce plan that is being developed to accompany the long-term strategy has noted that nursing shortages were “unlikely to improve” without seriously ramping up efforts to recruit more students and stop those already in the workforce from leaving.

During his speech on Thursday, Mr Stevens highlighted that nursing was “the single biggest workforce question for us now to solve”.

The “key” to solving this problem, said Mr Stevens, was to “expand training for new registered nurses and then ensure that nurses have the right support so that they stay”.

“There has been a bit of a focus in the country around international recruitment, which clearly will continue to be part of the answer, but the principal answer has got to be expanding,” he said.

As a result, he said that the NHS Long Term Plan had “specifically” noted the need to “better connect the work of the universities with local hospitals and other NHS services”.

“It looks quite likely that we will now see an expansion of several thousand in the number of undergraduate nurses”

Simon Stevens

He said:  “That’s why the long-term plan committed that we would – for the first time directly through the NHS route – reach out to local NHS employers and their local higher education institutions in order to expand the number of guaranteed clinical placements.

“That way universities are able to confidently go ahead and expand their nursing intake, beginning this September,” said Mr Stevens.

“As a result, there are more than 5,000 additional clinical placements for nursing that are being offered by trusts across the country to universities to fill,” he said.

“Of course, not all of this will be taken up, but even if only a proportionate it looks quite likely that we will now see an expansion of several thousand in the number of undergraduate nurses starting this year, which will be one of the biggest year-on-year improvements ever,” he added.