• Dido Harding says if she had an extra billion pounds to spend on pay she would put it into social care
  • But stresses this is “not choosing good from bad, but good from good”
  • Also says there is a “huge shortfall” in mature students applying to study nursing and indicates they need financial support

NHS Improvement’s chair has said the staff “in our health and social care system who are most underpaid are healthcare assistants working in social care, not [staff] in the NHS” - and that they should be prioritised in funding decisions.

Speaking at the Queen’s Nursing Institute conference in London on Tuesday, Baroness Dido Harding did however stress there was a need for better financial support for mature nursing students.

She said: “What some of this is about is making some trade-offs, in terms of very significant amounts of money.

“The people in our health and social care system who are most underpaid are healthcare assistants working in social care, not in the NHS. We simply can’t fill those roles; it’s unacceptable.”

Baroness Harding said: “If I had an extra billion pounds to spend on pay, I would put it into social care rather than student nurses.”

She stressed it is “not choosing good from bad, but good from good” and said there is difficult work being done as “we turn the interim People Plan into the People Plan”.

Shortfall in mature nurses

Baroness Harding also said: “I’m particularly worried about what we need to do to make nursing a more attractive profession, particularly for mature students to retrain to become nurses.

“We are seeing a huge shortfall in the number of people who apply as mature students to study for nursing qualifications – we’ve definitely got something wrong there.”

However, while she said there was a need to address financial support for mature students, she added the data is not so clear cut for 18-year-olds.

Unable to fill clinical placements

She continued: “It has been amazing to see the number of additional clinical placements we have been able to identify to start this September, but slightly frustrating that we can’t fill them. There is a lot of work to do.”

While she welcomed an additional £210m for continuing professional development announced by government in the spending review earlier this month, she described it as a “down payment” and “only the beginning”.

And addressing a question from a delegate, Baroness Harding said the apprenticeship scheme needed “serious changes”.

“We need to make sure government hears loud and clear that apprenticeships are not really working. It is not delivering on its very good intentions,” she said.