This month sees a 10 per cent reduction in student nurse places in universities in England and similar reductions in Scotland and Wales. The government aims to reduce numbers by a further 10 per cent in 2012 and again in 2013. At the same time, significant numbers of nurses are nearing retiring age and the attack on the pension fund may also spur a sudden drop in nursing numbers as nurses leave before the changes are implemented.
Anyone on the street and could tell you a country with an ageing population needs more nurses but the government is asking everyone to ignore the obvious.
One group which refused to accept the government’s logic was the nursing staff at the Glasgow University School of Nursing. Despite being the second highest rated nursing school in Britain it was threatened with closure earlier this year with a government minister describing Scotland as being “overprovided with nurses”. They fought back with support from unions across the city and they have won a stay of execution.
A draft consultation report by a university panel delayed a decision “until after the outcome of the Chief Nursing Officer’s review of nursing and midwifery education”. This is due in spring 2012, so the whole country had better wake up fast and tell the Chief Nursing Officer what they think.
The fall in nursing student numbers is leading to the loss of other posts in nursing departments across Britain by a combination of voluntary and compulsory redundancy. Just before their summer holiday 12 staff in the nursing and primary care departments at Middlesex University were told they were in the “at risk” pool for compulsory redundancy, along with colleagues from other disciplines. The local UCU branch is now in dispute and fighting the compulsory redundancies.
The number of nurse teaching posts lost nationally to voluntary redundancy is not known, but this is an alarming development as it means the loss of the staff group needed to reverse the wider trend. The last time that nursing student numbers and nursing teacher posts were reduced was during the Thatcher era, which resulted in Britain poaching nurses from all around the world, from Zimbabwe to the Philippines, to make up the “shortfall”.
This time the alarm has been sounded by the trade unions and a report called “The Decisive Decade” published in July by the leading health workforce expert, James Buchan of Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. The report says Britain has 352,000 qualified nurses, midwives and health visitors – below the European average for the population served.
Unless the current trends are reversed Buchan predicts the number will reduce to 253,000 in a decade. A report changes nothing, but it is useful ammunition: read in full at www.rcn.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/394780/004158.pdf. ■