• Government annouces £16.4m funding for clinical placement expansion in the NHS
  • Aims to help universities deliver 10,000 additional nursing, midwifery and AHP places
  • University applications have fallen by 23 per cent but still outnumber places available

Ministers have committed to a minimum £16m additional funding for new clinical placements for thousands of nursing students at NHS trusts, the Department of Health has told HSJ.

The additional funding will be provided to Health Education England so that it can increase the number of clinical placements it will fund across England.

This is part of a plan by the DH to boost the number of student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals by 10,000 by 2020. This is alongside a planned expansion of 1,500 in the number of medical students, with the aim of helping the UK become self sufficient for healthcare staff post Brexit.

Before this, the government had made no extra funding available for clinical placements, despite having announced the training expansion, sparking fears from universities about how it would be paid for. The new money is intended to create the clinical placemments at trusts – meaning in turn that universities can expand their student numbers to fill those placements. The NHS will still have to ensure it has sufficient capacity to train increased numbers of students. 

Nursing and other healthcare students are required to spend up to half their time on placements working in the NHS, with the average cost of placements totalling £1,500.

Former chancellor George Osborne announced plans to scrap bursaries for nursing and AHP students in 2015, replacing the system with student loans, saving the government an estimated £1.2bn. But while the government said at the time this would lead to an expansion of places, it had not previously said it would make the necessary increase to placements funded by HEE.

Latest data shows the number of nursing degree applications has fallen by 23 per cent this year compared with 2016, although there remain tens of thousands more applicants than the 23,000 places expected to be offered by universities. Final details of the numbers are expected to be released next month.

Since HEE was established in 2013 it has increased nurse training places by 15 per cent, reversing cuts made previously by strategic health authorities. Since 2013 the NHS has recruited record numbers of full time equivalent nurses, but demand continues to outstrip supply.

The DH has said the money to expand clinical placements will be made available to HEE immediately, with some places being available as early as this September.

Ministers hope the changes could, over time, help the NHS reduce its reliance on overseas recruitment and help plug gaps caused by EU nurses leaving the NHS and older nurses retiring.

A statement from the DH said: “Demand for training places has always been high – latest figures show over 45,000 students have applied for 23,000 nurse training places this year. Historically, thousands have been rejected despite having the required grades.

“The extra 10,000 training places for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals means there will be approximately 100,000 training places available between now and 2020, representing an 11 per cent increase on current figures.”

Health minister Philip Dunne said: “For too long, a cap on training places has meant thousands of talented students are rejected from university courses each year despite meeting requirements for medicine or nursing. These students will now be able to fulfil their potential as our future NHS nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.”