In Britain the shortage of nurses has reached disastrous levels, with some large bodies like the RCN calling the disaster a ‘national emergency’. This news comes as university applications for nursing degrees are at an all time low, with almost 17,000 less applications in 2018. The reduction in nursing applications in mature students has likewise seen a drop of 40% in early 2017 and with between 40-50,000 nursing vacancies at any one time in the UK there is a large concern over patient safety, care and pressure on the already employed staff. Even more worrying, the inadequacy between nursing applications and demand for care is expected to remain at the very least for another 8 years – an ominous sentence for the NHS and healthcare provision in the United Kingdom.
Back in 2017 government voted to withdraw vital bursary provisions to student nurses of all ages which (with already substantial financial strain) proved to be the straw that broke the camels back for nursing applications in the UK. Aside from studying a difficult and wide-scoping area with personal and professional registration requirements, nurses pledge to complete placements, often working similar or longer hours to fully qualified staff on an unpaid basis. The strain of the academic life and professional requirements needed to qualify competently in the absence of a financial ‘cushion’ puts strain on families of student nurses, and some students work placements, do their formal education AND work a part time job to suffice, often clocking up way beyond 50 hours of work a week, much of it unpaid.
However, in 2017 24% of nurses dropped out or suspended their studies according to governing bodies and university regulators, suggesting a greater issue is afoot. Interestingly, this rate has not changed in 10 years, suggesting 1 in 4 nurses find the requirements of their course, demanding hours and high number of clinical placements are too much to handle, or do not fit in well with their current lifestyle. This problem therefore is much more pervasive and not an ephemeral issue, yet a lack of harmony between government, regulators, universities, clinical placement management and the nurses themselves is a contentious issue with no clear primary cause. HSJ highlight the issue clearer, “OECD data highlights that the UK annual graduation rate is only 30 “new” nurses per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 62 in the USA and 82 in Australia. These countries have variants on loan-based education systems – but also significantly higher earnings potential for nurses than the UK”.
Is it just bursaries that are to blame? The King’s Trust released a statement claiming Brexit, poor management planning, workforce cuts and short-sighted immigration policies are responsible for a reduction in nurses available to fill vacancies. The castration of supply of care in the UK is a multi-dimensional issue and linked not only to the reduction in nurse applications to university. The uncertainty impending with Brexit and the impact on healthcare services is surely a large factor in nurses from abroad potentially heading to calmer political climates such as France and other European countries.
What do you think? How have these issues affected you?