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Nurse education leaders launch general election manifesto

The Council of Deans of Health has urged political parties and candidates in the next generation election to commit to four key pledges that will “bolster the domestic NHS workforce”.

The organisation, which represents UK university faculties that deliver education in nursing and midwifery, has launched a manifesto outlining the policy priorities for the general election next year.

“The four priorities our paper sets out are essential to delivering the sustainable NHS workforce our country needs”

Ed Hughes

The manifesto, published today, will be presented by the council during each political party conference this autumn, starting with the Liberal Democrats this week in Bournemouth.

It comes as the body has warned that ambitions to grow the health workforce, such as those outlined in the recently published NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, cannot be done by doing “business as usual”.

The first key pledge in the manifesto – A step change for a sustainable NHS workforce: General Election 2024 – is to “urgently address the growing shortfall in healthcare educators and researchers”.

The Council of Deans warned that the UK-wide shortage of a healthcare academic workforce had “limited” the number of nurses, midwives and allied health professionals that can be educated.

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As such, the body has called for the promotion of portfolio careers between practice, academia and research to existing NHS staff and healthcare students.

In addition, it has requested a plan to address any obstacles that may prevent a more flexible career journey across these fields.

Meanwhile, the second pledge put forward by the council is to “boost healthcare student recruitment as a priority”.

It comes as, this year, the number of people that applied for undergraduate nursing courses in the UK dropped by 16%.

The council warned that students “may not see an NHS career as desirable” nor were aware of the variety of career routes available.

It added that high financial and emotional costs faced by healthcare students had also contributed to drop out rates.

This was echoed by the Nuffield Trust earlier this week, which revealed in a report that, between 2014 and 2020, one in eight nursing students dropped out before finishing their degree in both England and Wales, compared with one in six in Scotland and one in 26 in Northern Ireland.

The Council of Deans of Health has subsequently called for a “focused advertising campaign” that will highlight the varied career routes and opportunities that healthcare courses can offer students.

It has also urged for there to be a cross-departmental approach to further financial and pastoral support for students.

Meanwhile, the council’s third election campaign pledge is to “review the overlapping layers of regulation facing healthcare education”.

It noted that higher education faculties delivering healthcare courses were subject to regulation from both the health and education system.

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A joined-up approach between regulators would “avoid competing demands on educations, streamline reporting and enhance safety”, argued the council.

Under this pledge, it has, therefore, called for a cross-sector review of the regulatory responsibility of universities providing health courses.

Similarly, the council has called for a review into how healthcare students, including nurses, are assessed.

Last month, Council of Deans chair Professor Alison Machin told Nursing Times that its members were very keen to see a move from an hours-focused curriculum to an outcome-focused curriculum.

As a result, the council has called for a roadmap to an outcome-focused approach to healthcare education regulation by the end of the next government’s parliamentary term.

The body’s final pledge is to “expand and diversify the placements needed for a growth in health and care students coming in”.

It argued that limits on placement availability within the NHS has capped the number of healthcare students that can be educated.

Therefore, the charity has called on the next government to use its convening power to ensure the NHS and partners work better with universities to offer high-quality in-person placements for students.

Additionally, it has urged for sustained capital investment and a more adaptive regulatory framework to further embrace simulated practice learning and technologies in promoting patient care.

Underpinning all the pledges are two key principles, the Council of Deans of Health said.

The first is that each pledge must be “a joint endeavour between health and education sectors”, led from the top, with shared responsibility between the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education.

Ed Hughes

The second is that universities “need to be involved at every stage” in discussions and decisions on the NHS workforce they educate, including at local level with their NHS and community partners.

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The chief executive of the council, Ed Hughes, said: “With party conference season upon us, this is a timely moment to launch the council’s policy priorities for the general election expected next year.

“Crucial to any party seeking to form a government will be questions around the sustainability of the NHS and how to deliver the growth in the healthcare workforce set out in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.

“As the parties come together to discuss their approaches, the council will be ensuring our members’ voices are heard.

“The four priorities our paper sets out are essential to delivering the sustainable NHS workforce our country needs.”

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