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Manifesto by Nurses: Your pleas for nurse education

Recent news of the UK Government’s 50,000 additional nurses target being met, and record numbers of nurses working for the NHS, were welcomed – but the staffing crisis is not fixed.

Without a healthy number of nursing and midwifery students, there is no future workforce and nurse student numbers are tumbling.

Around 10% fewer students joined UK nursing courses in the 2023-24 academic year than the one prior, thereby continuing a worrying trend since the temporary boom of 2020, which was inspired by the work of nurses during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, attrition rates from universities remain high, with too few students crossing the finishing line to registration.

For the third chapter of the Nursing Times Manifesto by Nurses, we asked the profession: what do you want our next government to do about nursing education?

Does the answer lie in dropping tuition fees and improving financial support for all student nurses? Many of the respondents to our survey certainly thought so. While government-funded courses are available for student nurses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, bursaries in England were controversially scrapped.

Others put forward suggestions about boosting distance and flexible learning, greater use of technology in education and making sure the curricula is relevant to the specialty of nursing being pursued.

Your proposals at a glance:

  • Scrap tuition fees for all nursing students
  • Invest in artificial intelligence and other technology-driven learning
  • Improve incentives to becoming a nurse
  • Invest in apprenticeships and more-flexible courses
  • Pay students for work during placements
  • Ensure good preceptorship is in place for all

 

What you said:

 

Helen Merlane, assistant professor, Department of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, Northumbria University

Helen Merlane

Helen Merlane, assistant professor, Department of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, Northumbria University

The government should drop or reduce course fees for student nurses, said Ms Merlane, who added: “As one of the admission leads for adult nursing, I am concerned by the reduced numbers of applicants, and even more so by universities dropping course requirements to get more applicants through the doors.”

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She also called for proposals to reduce placement hours to be “abolished” and for students to be required to have placements in palliative care.

 

Madeleine Glover, matron, London

She wanted the government to make it more viable for employers to take on nurse apprentices.

“Multiple routes into the profession need to continue to be supported. From the employer side as a nurse manager, we are not supported to back-fill our apprentice time and this should be considered in the funding envelope,” said Ms Glover.

She also called for action to bring more men into nursing.

 

Matthew Osborne, nursing lecturer, University of Essex

Matthew Osborne, nursing lecturer, University of Essex

Matthew Osborne

The nurse academic called for more financial support for student nurses, including grants and bursaries.

He also wanted to see government investment in new technologies to support teaching.

“Integrate technology into the curriculum to enhance learning experiences and prepare students for the digital advancements in healthcare,” he said.

 

Mick Mckeown, mental health nurse academic and Unison trade unionist

Mick Mckeown

Mick Mckeown, mental health nurse academic and Unison trade unionist

Mr Mckeown said the move to more simulated learning needed to be “closely monitored for quality”.

He wanted to see greater investment in both practice-based learning and simulation, as well as in exploring “creative approaches to learning”, such as the use of theatre and film in teaching.

In addition, Mr Mckeown asked for a review of nurse education to address concerns about courses becoming too generalist and focused on adult nursing.

He also said tuition fees should end.

 

Matthew Wynn, nurse and lecturer in digital health and society, University of Salford

Matthew Wynn, nurse and lecturer in digital health and society, University of Salford

Matthew Wynn

Mr Wynn asked for “greater regulatory support” for standardised qualifications in nursing specialisms, which he felt would improve career progression for nurses and patient safety.

In addition, he said nursing courses could “significantly enhance” their appeal if they embraced distance learning and explored the use of artificial intelligence for assessments and training, which would require funding to come to fruition.

 

Tracey McClean, nurse and head, Institute of Health and Social Care Studies, Guernsey

In contrast with other survey respondents, Dr McClean called for a more generalist approach to nursing education.

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She said: “The [nursing] programme should be extended to four years and result in a practitioner who has a more generalist knowledge base that addresses all four fields of practice.

“Nurses need to have a well-structured postgraduate career structure that enables them to further develop professionally and gain the specialist skills they need in their chosen field of practice.”

She also advocated for no tuition fees or a forgivable loan system, through which debts are wiped if students go on to work for the NHS for a set period of time after qualifying.

 

Iyanuoluwa Deborah Adubi, student nurse, University of Northampton

Iyanuoluwa Deborah Adubi

Iyanuoluwa Deborah Adubi, student nurse, University of Northampton

Ms Adubi wanted to see more opportunities for student nurses to earn money while studying, as well as better establishment of preceptorship to support the transition from student to professional.

On preceptorship, she said: “This will ensure that, after learning, we are still being supported and guided to further develop into other roles.”

 

Molly Amber Lloyd, student nurse, South Wales

Molly Amber Lloyd, student nurse, South Wales 

Molly Amber Lloyd

Ms Lloyd suggested she would welcome a reduction in placement hours.

“The amount of unpaid placement hours we have to complete is crazy. Student nurses often feel used by the NHS. Instead of using it as a learning opportunity, we are often used as staff members,” she said.

 

Nikki Haley, primary mental health worker in CAMHS

Nikki Haley

Nikki Haley, primary mental health worker in CAMHS

Ms Haley raised an issue about mental health nursing courses having a scarcity of content that is specific to mental health nursing.

“In the three years that I trained as a mental health nurse, it was only really in the third year that we had teaching that was specifically about mental health,” she said.

 

Brian Webster, nurse, NHS Tayside

Action to address attrition from nursing courses was called for by Mr Webster.

His suggestions included introducing flexible course options for people with caring responsibilities, having smaller cohorts of students and making sure that people who come into nursing understood the realities of working in the profession.

“We still get nursing students who don’t appreciate or understand what nursing is, which only adds to the attrition rates,” he said.

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Liz Curr, LGBTQ+ lead of the retired members’ network at the Royal College of Nursing

Liz Curr, LGBTQ+ lead of the retired members’ network at the Royal College of Nursing

Liz Curr

Equality, diversity and inclusivity being more “embedded” into nurse training was something Ms Curr wanted to see from future education policy.

She said it was important for educators and clinical staff to have a “knowledge, awareness and respect” of inclusive language.

 

Sarah Wells, adult nursing student, South of England

Sarah Wells

Sarah Wells, adult nursing student, South of England

Ms Wells said there needed to be a review of travel compensation policies for nursing placements, claiming that the current system sometimes disadvantaged mature students, such as herself, who live at home rather than in university accommodation.

 

Adebukola Lawal, nurse, London

Adebukola Lawal, nurse, London

Adebukola Lawal

“Nursing is a highly demanding job, both physically and mentally, [but] the pay is very poor compared with the energy and skills that it demands,” said Ms Lawal.

She called for free nursing education, payment for nursing students on placements and for improvements to nurse pay to make the profession a more attractive one.

 

Natalie Elliott, community staff nurse, Glasgow

Natalie Elliott

Natalie Elliott, community staff nurse, Glasgow

“The narrative of nursing needs to change. It is currently seen as outdated and lacking in value, with some nursing students viewing it as a means to an end,” said Ms Elliott.

She called for a narrowing of what she described as a “gap between theory and practice”, and for educators, clinicians and students to be involved in conversations about reforms of nurse education.

 

 

What next? Logo for the Nursing Times A Manifesto by Nurses campaign

The next chapter of our Manifesto by Nurses will focus on public health.

We want to know your ideas for how the next UK Government can prevent future pandemics and outbreaks of infectious disease, address waning vaccination rates and help people, in general, to stay healthy for longer.

To provide your ideas for the public health chapter, click or tap here to take part before Friday, 23 February.

Alternatively, send your send your ideas in no more than 300 words to nursingtimesmanifesto@gmail.com, along with your full name, job role, location and a high-resolution picture of yourself.

Please note that, by doing so, you are agreeing to be potentially named, quoted and pictured in Nursing Times, both online and in our print publications.

 

Follow the link below to download a PDF version of the Manifesto by Nurses education chapter. 

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