UWE Bristol VC reflects on how CSR could impact health education

Issue date: 25 November 2015

Professor Steve West

Reflecting on the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) announcements by the Chancellor of the Exchequer today, Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West of England, has set out some of his concerns about how decisions could impact on nursing and allied healthcare provision.

Although many aspects of the CSR are welcomed by Professor West he has highlighted the need to recognise and mitigate the significant risks that will arise from the major reforms announced.

In his blog post today he signposts the areas that he believes will impact universities as they set out to deliver high quality professional education and to the NHS as funding for the training of students will no longer come under its jurisdiction.

He believes that the key areas needing careful consideration are the challenges in relation to changes to student funding and maintaining quality of applicants; the opportunities to improve retention by applying incentives and conditions to student loans and a warning about the importance of making nursing and clinical training attractive to mature students who currently make up 60% of the nursing cohort.

Professor West said, “As student numbers will no longer be controlled by the NHS from 2017/18 cohort there are very significant risks that will need to be worked through as this major change is implemented.

“Ensuring that universities achieve recruitment levels to deliver the required increase in workforce numbers forecast by the NHS is vital. At UWE Bristol we have invested hugely in this area with a significant emphasis on practice based and simulated learning but we need to be very clear about how we communicate the changes and implications to future students.

“There is a significant opportunity to address retention of staff within the NHS by offering an incentive on the loans for graduates on condition that they stay and work within the NHS for a defined period of time. This approach would ensure the investment via the Student Loans Company is retained within the NHS and the public sector and would recognise the significant public service and benefit delivered by health and social care practitioners.”

Professor West also warns of the need to make nursing and allied professional education accessible and attractive to mature students in light of the decline in applications nationwide.

He said, “At UWE Bristol we have been able to meet key skill gaps in vital NHS services where it has traditionally been difficult to recruit – like mental health, radiotherapy and learning disabilities – by appealing to mature students, who may also have caring responsibilities. Retaining the ability to attract mature students is critical and again the way we communicate the changes and implications to prospective students is an imperative to ensuring retention and growth in skill shortage areas.”

As a past Consultant Podiatrist Professor West speaks with passion of his belief that we need to ensure the future of the NHS and the critical part universities play in delivering high quality professionals.

“It is clearly essential that we work together to create the right conditions to recruit and retain the very best students we can for the future nursing and healthcare workforce. We need to ensure prospective students understand the changes and the benefits of the new funding approach. It is clear that if we are to meet the additional 10,000 nurses required over the course of this parliament, universities, healthcare providers, commissioners and government are going to need to work together in innovative and creative ways to recruit, retain and energise the future workforce.

“The NHS needs a strong, capable and committed workforce to sustain it through the challenges ahead, as demands for healthcare and cost pressures continue to grow. We need to recognise the public value and public good delivered by the nursing and healthcare profession. Importantly, as these changes are implemented we need to be very alive to the risks, redoubling our efforts to make the profession as attractive as possible so we pull in the talented individuals that make the NHS the celebrated institution that it is – which ultimately serves to benefit us all.”

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