Tag: Universities and Colleges Admissions Service

Recruiting to mental health nursing degrees

Huge congratulations to all who, earlier this month, secured the necessary qualifications to begin their mental health nurse education in the coming academic year. Welcome to the profession, and to the start of a rewarding career.

Following the publication of A level results on August 17th, as John Baker was first to point out, over 50 UK higher education institutions (HEIs) went to clearing to recruit new mental health nursing students:

That, as John suggested, seemed a large number by any measure: worth noting is that Mental Health Nurse Academics UK counts representatives from just over 60 HEIs. Also worth noting is that this is the first year of recruitment to nursing degrees to follow bursary reform in England: a policy the Department of Health explicitly linked to an expansion in student places. So have universities been to clearing to recruit increased numbers of students – assuming they wanted, and were able, to accept more? Shaun Lintern from the Health Service Journal has been tweeting extracts from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) data analysis service, comparing the numbers of students placed with previous years. Here’s an example from three days ago:

Between now and September 1st 2017 UCAS is publishing daily updates, and as it happens is paying particular attention to nursing: these are in the separate files marked as ‘B7 reporting’. The most recent report, published on August 24th, still shows a fall in the number of people placed on nursing courses compared to 2016:

Source: UCAS, https://www.ucas.com/file/122081/download?token=7aEZplYE
This is important, but what UCAS is not displaying is data on the numbers of applicants placed to nursing degrees broken down by field (mental health, learning disability, child and adult). Data on the age of placed applicants is available, and as Steven Pryjmachuk points out shows a reduction (compared to 2016) amongst mature students:

Mental health nursing courses attract older applicants, and so may have experienced a disproportionate reduction in the number of new students compared to other fields. But we can’t know for sure, in the absence of having the data. What we do know, though, is that the evidence so far on overall placements to nursing degrees commencing in the 2017-18 academic year suggests that recruitment will be doing little to plug the hole in nursing vacancies.

Nurses needed

Yesterday the Nursing and Midwifery Council issued a press release reporting on a continued decline in the number of EU-qualified nurses and midwives joining the register, and a simultaneous increase in the number of EU-qualified nurses and midwives leaving. Behind the press release is a longer report, from which I have extracted two tables:

EU trained nurses and midwives joining the NMC register for the first time. Extracted from: https://www.nmc.org.uk/globalassets/sitedocuments/special-reports/nmc-eu-report-june-2017.pdf
EU trained nurses and midwives leaving the NMC register. Extracted from: https://www.nmc.org.uk/globalassets/sitedocuments/special-reports/nmc-eu-report-june-2017.pdf
 Judged on these figures the number of EU nurses coming to the UK looks to have slowed to a trickle. Elsewhere, in its report In short supply: pay policy and nurse numbers The Health Foundation points out that in 2015 NHS England had 22,000 too few nurses specialising in the care of adult patients. The mental health field, The Health Foundation adds, is one where (for the present) tools to calculate safe staffing are virtually non-existent.

Meanwhile, UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) reports that applications for higher education programmes commencing in the 2017-18 academic year have declined across the board, but that it is nursing courses which have seen the sharpest fall. Applicants from England making at least one choice to study nursing dropped by 23% (to 33,810) in 2017.

The RCN, amongst others, has long been campaigning against persistent low pay for NHS nurses, arguing that a career which is so obviously poorly remunerated is no incentive to potential new recruits. Nor, for that matter, does it help efforts to retain existing staff. Previous reports from the RCN tell us that the UK’s nursing workforce is an ageing one

Taken together, the loss of European nurses in the context of last year’s EU referendum, chronically poor workforce planning, a nursing profession which is getting older (and will therefore lose members to retirement), the loss of bursaries in England and continued low pay make for a toxic combination. But things can be done. Agreeing the future security of EU citizens in the UK would be a start, along with removing the NHS pay cap. Reintroducing bursaries might help rekindle UCAS applications. Better planning of future NHS staffing needs is long overdue. Nursing, of course, remains a mightily fulfilling career and I would hate to think that this (admittedly rather negative) post puts off anyone contemplating a move in this direction. But it also serves to highlight some of the serious challenges which lie ahead.