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Ministers must 'urgently' reinstate bursaries for nursing students

MINISTERS must urgently reinstate bursaries for nursing students, unions demanded yesterday after new figures revealed a “crisis” in hospital staffing.

In a report published today, a committee of MPs concludes that too little attention has been given to retaining nurses in the NHS, noting that more are leaving the health service than joining.

A separate study found that the number of nurses has flatlined in spite of rising demand from an ageing and increasing population.

Britain’s number of nurses per 1,000 people fell from 10.2 in 2005 to just under eight 10 years later, according to the International Longevity Centre. The United States, Germany and France have instead seen a rise in the nursing workforce, in line with population growth.

And the number of nurses rose by just 0.8 per cent between 2009 and 2017, while the numbers of people aged over 65 shot up by 17.6 per cent.

The Commons health select committee said too much focus had been placed on recruiting new nurses rather than retaining existing ones.

Workload pressures, pay and a general sense of not feeling valued were among many factors cited by those leaving.

The committee noted that 29,000 nurses and midwives dropped off the National Medical Council register in 2016-17, up 9 per cent on the previous year.

“The foolishness of abolishing the NHS bursary for healthcare students is laid bare in the report,” said Unison head of health Sara Gorton.

“The government needs to reverse this ill-thought-out decision, as well as provide proper funding for nursing apprenticeships, so that young people are encouraged to join the nursing profession.”

The report calls on the government to closely monitor the effect of removing bursaries, but general union Unite said this proposal was insufficient.

Unite regulation supremo Jane Beach, who gave evidence to the committee, said: “The report could have gone further in its recommendations on bursaries.

“We don't have the luxury of waiting another year to know how this will play out.”

She said the evidence of the effect of removing bursaries was “already stark and alarming.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth backed the unions’ call, saying: “The truth is that the Prime Minister has overseen an unprecedented workforce crisis in our NHS, which has culminated in the number of nurses falling for the first time since 2013.”

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