Changes to the funding system for nursing and allied health professionals is a major shift for the professions. Probably the biggest change since the move to all graduate entry to the nursing register. As such you would expect there to be major conversations and debate going on in health care provider organisations, in careers services, in professional organisations and associations. And there is some of that. However, most of the debate in nursing seems to be focussed on the change from bursary to standard student loan and the potential impact on individuals. As so often, nursing concentrates on ‘What does it mean for me?” rather than “What does it mean for the profession?” The change is both complex and complicated. Too much so for a blog, so I refer you to the Council of Deans extremely comprehensive and useful microsite of information on the whole picture.
I’m an optimist about the pre-registration funding changes. I think people will still want to study nursing at university and be proud of the education that prepares them for a life-long career. I also believe that the bringing of nursing funding into line with other disciplines studied at university says something about nursing being a serious and recognised academic discipline, and that pre-registration education has not been served well by being kept firmly under the control of those who must respond to NHS funding constraints. It has taken many years for nursing to become all-graduate entry, many years for it become established in universities and this move to the student fee system is, for me, an illustration of its acceptance on equal terms in higher education. I believe this is in the best interests of the profession for the long-term. For its value, its status and its recognition.
Much more worrying – and much less talked about – are the reductions in funding for Continuing Professional Development or Learning Beyond Registration. Conversations with colleagues show that the money available for continuing education has been reduced by anything from 40% to 90%, with more reductions to come. This at a time when Registered Nurses are under immense pressure, Trusts need to find ways of recruiting and retaining them, and research is telling us that the better qualified the nurse (i.e. degree level) then the better the outcomes for patients.
It is hard to understand why the development of the existing nursing workforce is such a low priority, and how Registered Nurses are expected to maintain and develop their critical skills without some funding support and time release for formal, substantial education that can help them to develop and change services. Instead they are exhorted by ‘Commitments’ and alliterative characteristics to work harder and do more with less and less. Sad. And infuriating.