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‘Axing bursaries could worsen nurse shortages’ - health campaigner

A shortage of qualified nurses which is contributing to rocketing agency staff costs at east Kent’s hospitals could worsen because of the axing of NHS training bursaries, fears one health campaigner.

The move could be another bitter pill for hospital bosses to swallow as they wrestle with a £35 million deficit and the huge challenge of configuring the three sites in Canterbury, Thanet and Ashford.

From next year nursing students will have to pay for their three-year degree courses at a cost of £27,000.

A campaigner is warning of a shortage of new nurses
A campaigner is warning of a shortage of new nurses

The secretary of the Campaign for Health in East Kent, Peggy Pryer, is worried it could put many off choosing nursing as a career.

“Who is going to pay £27,000 for three years to finish up earning under £22,000 once qualified?” the retired nurse asked.

“This is particularly going to reduce the number of women who have, in the past, entered the profession once their children are less demanding of their time.”

Mrs Pryer says the right levels of appropriately qualified nurses is vital on hospital wards.

She has called for a re-introduction of the state enrolled nurse, who did not need a degree but were still trained to a high level and registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

She also thinks an apprenticeship scheme could work.

Christ Church University, which runs nursing degree courses, was highly subscribed in its last intake, with students taking advantage of the last chance to get a government NHS bursary. The university runs the courses at both its Canterbury and Medway campuses.

The university says it is now trying to mitigate the effect by offering grants of up to £1,000 a year to support students with its own bursary scheme, for which it has set aside £200,000.

The East Kent Hospitals Trust is urgently trying to tackle clinical staff shortages to reduce the reliance on agency staff said to be costing multiple millions.

The nurse has been suspended. Stock image
The nurse has been suspended. Stock image

It is just one of the factors it is having to address as it seeks to create one super hospital in east Kent, where all specialities from cardiology to vascular and renal and cancer services would be under one roof.

That site is widely suspected to be the William Harvey Hospital at Ashford, although the trust insists no decisions have been made and all options will go out to public consultation next summer.

Under its “emerging model”, two hospitals will have full A&E departments – currently at Ashford and Thanet – and one hospital would just have a urgent care unit, elective surgery and rehabilitation, thought to be in Canterbury.

The proposals also include significantly expanding the role of GP surgeries where more treatments would be available close to patients in an effort to avoid hospital visits.

Mrs Pryer says she accepts change has to happen because of the funding and staffing crisis in the local health service.

“We cannot have specialist units that include full A&E services and vascular and renal to mention just a few in every hospital,” she said.

“There are not the appropriately qualified staff, including doctors and nurses to run them. Specialist units attract specialist staff that could bring more of these into our local hospitals.”

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