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Nurses: Recruitment

Volume 803: debated on Thursday 18 June 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to facilitate the recruitment of nurses onto degree courses beginning in September 2020.

My Lords, the health and education sectors are working jointly to increase applications and places. The Government announced 5,000 more healthcare places from September. In England, nursing students can access more funding worth at least £5,000 per academic year. During July in clearing, there will be marketing campaigns aimed at students considering nursing.

My Lords, one reason why we were so ill prepared for Covid-19 was that the NHS was short of over 40,000 nurses. Will the Government ensure that the number of nursing places available at universities this coming September will significantly begin to reduce that dire shortage of nurses?

I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Clark, that from September 2020 eligible pre-registration students in English universities studying nursing, midwifery or one of the many allied health professional courses will benefit from additional funding of £5,000 per academic year. The correct number of places will be made available to hit our objective of 50,000 more nurses by 2025.

Can my noble friend say what the take-up is of nursing apprenticeships, and will his department consider a combined apprenticeship that includes social care workers to ensure a route to career progression?

My noble friend makes an incredibly interesting suggestion on a combined course. I am prepared to look into that and write to her about whether work has been done on such a measure.

My Lords, I declare my interests as outlined in the register. Not only do we need to recruit new students this year, but we must retain those entering their second and third years of study and ensure that those in their final year, who are currently helping the NHS in a working capacity, complete their training. It is vital that we introduce universal cost of living maintenance grants that reflect students’ needs. I understand that the Prime Minister said that he will look into that further following a meeting of the Education Select Committee. Will the Minister confirm that in addition to the £5,000 maintenance grants there will be an additional £1,000 for mental health and learning disability nurses this year? Is he willing to meet me and other interested Peers to look at the long-term support for nursing students?

The noble Baroness is entirely right about retention: we are battling the leakage of skills and experience from the NHS. In September 2019, the Government announced a £210 million boost for front-line NHS staff, which includes, as she referred to, funding for a £1,000 personal development budget for every nurse, midwife and allied health professional working in the NHS. I would be glad to meet her and her colleagues to discuss what more can be done.

Among the extra 4 million people who have become carers during the pandemic, 72,000 left the NHS to take on caring responsibilities. Many will eventually want to return to work or training. How will the Government support those who will need to combine caring with employment or training? Are there plans to enable career progression, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, suggested, so that skills learned in caring can be translated into professional qualifications?

My Lords, the Covid epidemic has thrown a spotlight on the essential role of carers, who have clearly played an enormous role in looking after those who are vulnerable. I completely support the sentiments of the noble Baroness that we should do more to help carers in their professional development so that they can convert to different secondary careers. I would be happy to look at any suggestions she has for ways in which we can do that better.

Not for a long time have nurses had such a high national profile. The career options are many and now many more men are nurses too. Will the Minister explain to the House what careers material is available to schools, what opportunities there are for potential nurses to see what the role entails, and what efforts are being made to encourage young men?

My Lords, we have backed an enormous marketing campaign called “We are the NHS”, which throws a huge spotlight on the role of nurses of all genders, backgrounds and professional focus. That campaign includes a strong schools element. It seeks to attract a broad range of backgrounds of people who might think of applying to the nursing profession.

My Lords, support for key public service staff and maintaining quality training for those professions will be strategic in the successful rebuilding of our post-Covid society. In the Royal College of Nursing 2019 employment survey, 37% of qualified nurses said that they were seeking a new job outside the profession. Does the Minister agree that the retention of qualified nurses, midwifery and allied health professional staff is just as important as the recruitment of trainees? Will he therefore say more about how the Government will review the support packages available to both students and new post-qualification nurses and allied health professionals, in order that more of those newly qualified are encouraged to remain in the profession?

I entirely support the observations of the right reverend Prelate. I have already said that retention is incredibly important. The culture in which nurses work is vital to achieving the kind of retention objectives we have in mind. That is why we are working on a people plan for the NHS. One thing we have learned from Covid is that when you give professionals the scope to deliver their best professional results, you get the best out of them. That is something we want to apply in the NHS people plan.

I was pleased to hear my noble friend announce the additional funding for nursing students, but will he give serious consideration to reviewing funding considerations for all nursing students in England, perhaps with a view for the Government to cover tuition fees for future students as long as they stay in the NHS for a period of years?

We have made a clear, well-defined and thoughtful new funding package for nurses. We would like to see how that is applied and what the response is. Once we have done our review, we will look at alternatives or potential supplements.

My Lords, the Covid pandemic has underlined the vital role of nurses in the health system. Bearing in mind that nursing students do unpaid work while learning, does the Minister agree that the £5,000 bursary is not enough to meet the fees and living costs of those whom the Government are trying to attract?

The noble Lord is entirely right that the role of nurses in the healthcare system has been extremely well exemplified by the response to Covid. The £5,000 bursary was agreed in collaboration with, and with the input of, the Royal College of Nursing. There is of course other support that students can already access through the student loans system and the existing learning support fund, and that goes a long way towards paying for childcare, travel and other costs in cases of exceptional hardship.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the Chief Nurse, Professor Mark Radford, that student nurses who volunteered to be redeployed on the front line during the pandemic are now feeling cast aside due to the uncertainty about their future, with some finding themselves out of a job but still with debts of up to £30,000 from having done a degree? If he does agree, can he say what the Government intend to do about making them feel less abandoned?

The noble Baroness raises a very concerning point. I take the Chief Nurse’s advice and observations at face level. I express my profound thanks to all those nurses who have been redeployed to the front line and have performed an important task but who are now feeling a sense of either anti-climax or uncertainty. I reassure them that there is an enormous number of job opportunities in the NHS, that there is a role for them in the NHS of the future, and that we will be investing massively in the role of nurses in the years ahead, as exemplified by our commitment to recruit.

My Lords, I regret that the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. It would be very helpful if colleagues would keep their supplementary questions short so that we can get everyone on the list to ask their question. The third Oral Question is from the noble Lord, Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom.