The NHS relies on a well-trained workforce to deliver the best possible care for patients and it is crucial to ensure the NHS workforce can be renewed with a regular supply of staff, including nurses.
The number of nurses in training actually reached a record high in 2016 and there are over 13,000 more nurses on wards since 2010. I believe, however, more can be done to boost the training of nurses in the NHS. Under the NHS bursary system, an artificial cap on the numbers of nurses in training was created as a result of the cost being carried by the NHS alone. This led to 30,000 nursing applicants being rejected, with only 2,500 students successfully entering postgraduate routes to nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare professions and I do not believe this is a sustainable position when we need more nurses.
This is why postgraduate nursing bursaries and other financial aid for health students need to be moved towards the standard student loans system. Student loans are a more generous and effective system as students without dependents can receive as much as £9,256 per year, whereas under the NHS-funded bursary system they would receive under £7,000. I can also assure you that significant grants for financial commitments like childcare and travel will continue to be available, so all nursing students are properly supported throughout their studies.
When I discussed this matter with Stephen Barclay MP, the Minister of State for Health, he was keen to highlight the fact that that there are now five new medical schools, resulting in 1500 new medical places, as part of the Government's drive to increase the number of nurses. We also discussed the Government's return to work programme, which has seen more than 4,000 former nursing staff applying to return to the profession.
Furthermore, university is not the only career path for aspiring nurses. To help ensure greater access to the nursing profession, nursing apprenticeships are being increased to 5,000 this year and to 7,500 next year, which will mean many people can earn while they learn and become nurses without needing a student loan.