Mr Hancock told the Health and Social Care Select Committee yesterday that his department was also exploring ways to tackle the “drop-off” in mature student applicants to nursing courses.
“We do want to take action in terms of incentives to get people into the areas of particular shortage”
However, he warned: “We have also got to be really clear-headed about where it is best to use the firepower we have got.”
His pledge came in response to a question from committee chair Sarah Wollaston about his position on nursing bursaries and whether he was willing to be flexible to address problem areas.
Mr Hancock insisted that the “biggest barrier” to growing the nursing workforce was the number of degrees places on offer – noting how courses were currently oversubscribed.
“Since the most urgent priority is to get more nurses the best use of resources is in expanding the number of training placements,” he said.
However, he accepted that there was a need for intervention to reverse the decline in mature student applicants seen since the removal of the bursary, and also to fill gaps in community and mental health nursing.
“We do want to take action in terms of incentives to get people into the areas of particular shortage, but we have also got to be really clear-headed about where it’s best to use the firepower we have got,” Mr Hancock told the committee.
“One of the things this committee heard loud and clear was the importance of CPD budgets”
In the same sitting Mr Hancock was pressed by Dr Wollaston over when the spending review would be.
She highlighted how it was difficult for health employers to plan their continuing professional development for nurses until Health Education England’s budget was confirmed in the review.
“One of the things this committee heard loud and clear from our nursing workforce inquiry was the importance of continuing professional development budgets and that is very much a core part of the HEE budget,” she said.
While stressing that the date for the spending review would be a matter for the next prime minister to decide once selected, Mr Hancock said NHS organisations also needed to be mindful of their own responsibility to fund the training of their staff.
“If you are running a hospital and you are the chief people officer for a hospital – not all hospitals have a chief people officer and they should – of course you get some of the training budget from HEE but your CPD – yes some of it can come from HEE, an external source, but you can do an awful lot of it on your own balance sheet because if you are running a hospital your most important resource are your staff and you need to be training them up,” Mr Hancock said.