More than 70 per cent of the public say there are not enough nurses to keep NHS patients safe
The Government should increase funding for nurse education to arrest the decline in student numbers, according to more than half the public in England.
In a poll conducted for the College by YouGov, 53 per cent of those surveyed said the Government should spend some of the extra £20bn promised to the NHS in England by Theresa May on increasing financial support for nursing students.
The motivation for the overwhelming public response is clear - the poll also revealed that nearly three out of four people in the UK (71 per cent) say there are not enough nurses to keep NHS patients safe. Nurse vacancies in England are projected to rise as high as 48,000 by 2023 if no action is taken, and the RCN believes a key way to tackle this impending crisis is to increase the number of student nurses.
But since the living support bursary for nursing students was scrapped in 2016, applications to study nursing have fallen 33 per cent, while the number of students accepted onto courses has dropped 8 per cent, despite Government promises that the policy would improve supply.
In response to falling student numbers, the College has presented costed proposals to the Government such as a maintenance grant for all nursing students and practical support for tuition fees, including bringing back the bursary or introducing forgivable loans. In this second option, loans would be paid back by the Government in return for years of nursing service.
As the polling makes clear, the public back increased spending on financial support for student nurses. Financial support is vital to encourage more people to study nursing and ultimately increase the supply of nurses, to begin to address the worsening staff vacancies crippling patient care in England.
Student nurses face unique challenges. On top of 2,300 hours of academic study, they are required to complete an extra 2,300 hours of clinical placements over their three year course. This is a thousand hours more time spent on their course than the average student.
Their student loans barely cover the cost of travel, housing and food, and most are not able to have a part-time job on top of the gruelling workload.
Nursing students are more likely to be older, and may already have caring and financial commitments.
Adaeze Bowen, a second year nursing student from Essex, said:
“Nurses, both student and qualified, deal with stressful, challenging situations on a daily basis. We have to confront death, aggression, emotional distress and long, physically demanding work hours – and then go home and look after our children, pay our bills and keep a roof over our heads.
“Even though I was in the last cohort to receive the bursary, I have struggled financially throughout my studies. I’m a single mum and trying to live on less than £800 per month is incredibly challenging. That constant financial stress compromises the quality of your work and the time you spend with your family.
“Things are even worse since the bursary was scrapped. Not only have student nurse numbers visibly dwindled, the drop in morale and motivation on the wards has also been evident.”
Professor Dame Donna Kinnair, Acting Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said:
“Taxpayers have spoken on how their money should be spent - politicians and NHS leaders would be ill-advised to ignore more than half their voters and patients.
“The number of unfilled nurse jobs is rising as the number in education falls. Whether it’s worried parents waiting hours in A&E or an older person who can’t be discharged, it’s clear people know there are not enough nurses to provide the care they want for themselves and their loved ones.
“But there is a way to solve to this. We want at least £1bn a year put back into nursing higher education and increase nurse numbers by offering the next generation of student nurses the support they desperately need.
“Without enough staff, the best laid plans will fail. Investing in the future of nursing is an investment in safe patient care and the future of our NHS.”
Notes to Editors
- All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,692 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27 and 28th November 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
- YouGov put this question to 1,410 adults in England from the overall UK sample and survey on the same dates: The government is going to be spending £20 billion extra on the NHS a year by 2023. Some have suggested that some of this money should be used to increase financial support to nursing students. Others believe that the NHS has other things that the money should be spent on. Do you think some of this extra money should or should not be used to increase financial support to nursing students?