A briefing just published by the Nuffield Trust, The King’s Fund and the Health Foundation provides a stark reminder of the staffing challenges facing the NHS. The report predicts a nursing deficit of almost 250,000 by 2030, with the number of vacancies at a record high. Meanwhile, the NHS improvement regulator is warning of nursing shortages of 41,722 – the highest number to date and almost 12% of the nursing workforce. Factor in, too, the UK’s ageing population and increasingly complex healthcare landscape, and it’s clear that the pressure and demand for our frontline services is not going away.
So how can higher education break away from the doom and gloom rhetoric and drive positive change? More specifically, what role can HE play in serving these future skills gaps – and is there an opportunity for new, collaborative models to provide more than just a sticking plaster to the challenges facing the health service?
the NHS improvement regulator is warning of nursing shortages of 41,722 – the highest number to date and almost 12% of the nursing workforce
The changing dynamic of nursing
Now, more than ever, nursing in the UK is a graduate-entry profession that’s likely to become an increasingly graduate-heavy staff base, being driven by large-scale recruitment campaigns, a more socially conscious workforce and the prospects of a career with decent pay and flexibility. The continued development of nurses has also helped to raise the profile of the occupation, and new standards from the Nursing and Midwifery Council are due to come into effect at the end of January 2019 which will shape the next generation of this vital workforce.
In addition, the new generation of nurses are expected not just to deliver care but also to assess, diagnose, plan and prescribe as independent and autonomous healthcare practitioners. Consider, too, the prospect of new technologies and we could soon see another step-change for the workforce; the development of automation, artificial intelligence, virtual intelligence, virtual reality and 5G could free up nurses to provide and lead on more patient care and high-value clinical time, while enabling them to spend more time on generating vital research and ensuring the delivery of evidence-based practice.
With nurses increasingly becoming the clinical leaders of care services, in order to meet the evolving demands and deliver a skilled workforce at the scale and pace required, university-based degree-level education has a vital role to play.
Universities are where future generations of nurses are developed, and curriculums must reflect the changing remit of nursing and the new advances set to transform the sector, while providing enough real-time experience. University faculties of health already work in close partnership with health providers to ensure that nursing students are offered the best possible clinical experiences. This partnership working must involve forward-thinking course content development, student selection and teaching delivery while also ensuring that students are provided with excellent clinical placements. Indeed, student nurses spend 50% of their learning on placement. Paired with strong partnerships, higher education has the ability to provide nursing graduates with diverse and varied options for career development and progression within the healthcare service, future-proofing skills and standards.
Building on the NHS’s efforts to attract more people to the nursing profession, universities must focus on driving aspiration through showcasing their output of future-ready graduate nurses.
New partnership models for success
In response to the resource and funding constraints evident in the healthcare sector, the government has put partnership working front and centre by establishing 44 strategic transformation partnerships (STPs) across England. This brings together health and social care providers and commissioners to enhance service delivery via integrated care services in their respective geographical areas.
Beyond central and local government, HE has long recognised the value in working collaboratively. In the West Midlands, for example, the West Midlands Combined Universities (WMCU) brings together Birmingham City University, Coventry University and the University of Wolverhampton. All bring a track record of delivering quality nursing education with more than 14,000 students allied to medicine this year alone, and we are now working together to support the ambitions of the West Midlands Combined Authority, aiming to fill the predicted nursing shortages in the region.
By working together, sharing expertise and building on the group’s strengths, the WMCU is delivering future-ready nurses at scale and pace tailored to the WMCA’s needs. With world-class facilities, flexible courses and collective voice in attracting people to the profession, we will address challenges effectively.
Guy Daly is the pro-vice-chancellor for Health and Life Sciences at Coventry University, a partner in the West Midlands Combined Universities group.