Union predicts nursing crisis

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The Independent Online
HOSPITALS throughout Britain face a shortage of up to 15,000 qualified nurses in three years' time because of cuts in the numbers of trainees, a health union has warned.

A programme of mergers and closures of colleges of nursing, and redundancies among lecturers, will make it difficult to train future staff.

The skills shortage will force health authorities to poach staff from each other, says the Royal College of Nursing. The RCN's director of education, Tom Bolger, said: 'Unless action is taken now, the problem will become more acute in the next few years.'

He estimated the shortfall to be about 5,000 qualified nurses a year for the next three years. At present, some 20,000 students annually qualify, joining about 400,000 working within the NHS. They are trained by 3,500 nurse tutors in about 100 colleges.

Recent projections by South-West Thames Regional Health Authority predict a 46 per cent cut in the numbers of students trained in the region by 1996. The area's six nursing colleges will be reduced to two larger ones. The RCN says up to 50 nurse tutors face redundancy in South-West Thames, and 150 elsewhere in London.

In recent years, a wave of college closures has taken place: in Scotland the number of colleges has been cut from 16 to 12. Nationally, the RCN expects the contraction will lead to even more closures.

A recent survey of 75 nursing colleges in England showed a 15-20 per cent drop in student numbers in 1993. In Wales, it was 8-10 per cent.

One London nurse teacher said: 'What is happening is frightening. I have been told that if anything happens, I can apply for a job on a ward. But I have been a lecturer for more than 10 years. Whatever skills I may have can easily be matched and beaten by someone newly qualified.'

The cutback is partly being blamed on a reduced turnover of qualified staff, who are afraid to leave their jobs during the recession. But Mr Bolger said: 'The question not being addressed is what happens when the recovery takes place. In London, where it is easier to change jobs without moving home, there was a staff turnover in some areas of up to 20 per cent last year.'

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'The Government is committed to training the qualified nurses and midwives needed by a comprehensive health service. Workforce planning decisions are taken at the local level. We see no reason for changes at present.'