• Simon Stevens declares there is no substitute for graduate nurses
  • CPD funding will be restored over the next five years
  • Discrimination against BME nursing staff an “inexcusable problem”

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has said there is “no substitute” for graduate nurses and “we have got to see a meaningful expansion” of training places.

Speaking at the chief nursing officer’s summit in Birmingham today, Mr Stevens said: “We have got to see a meaningful expansion of undergraduate nurses. There is no substitute, even despite the fact we are going to have wonderful nursing associates and new routes into nursing, there is no substitute for graduate nurses and we have seen a big fall in applications for graduate nurses.”

Sparking spontaneous applause, Mr Stevens also announced there would be a restoration of continuing professional development funding for NHS staff, although it will be phased over five years. Cuts to CPD training budgets by Health Education England have been widely blamed for contributing to poor staff retention.

He said: “I personally am convinced the litmus test of whether [we] are able to bring about the improvements we want to see in the NHS is whether, through the workforce implementation plan that has kicked off, we can make practical and meaningful improvements to nursing and GPs.”

He said turning away thousands of nursing applicants should not continue, and called on the NHS locally to work with universities to create new places, while the NHS nationally would need to identify the funding necessary for clinical placements.

The NHS England chief executive praised registered nursing and revealed he had recently confronted health ministers with a copy of the Ipsos Mori veracity index on trusted professions, pointing out nurses were the most trusted profession versus the low position of politicians.

He said spending time on an inpatient ward talking to nurses had illustrated their frustrations, stating that this “all boiled down to the gift of time and the ability to have a continuity of relationships with patients”.

On CPD training, Mr Stevens said: “Those budgets were obviously slashed as part of the budget reductions that HEE saw and we are going to have to put that right.

“Between now and the autumn, when spending on education and training is settled as part of the spending review, and the workforce implementation plan is finalised, you have my personal guarantee that we will go into bat and we will get a restoration, phased over the next five years of the budgets we need for CPD.”

Meanwhile, Mr Stevens told the summit he wanted nurses to lead the development of local improvement plans for each region between Easter and the autumn. He also called on chief nurses to do more to tackle discrimination against black and minority ethnic staff.

He said NHS culture needed to change, highlighting the “inexcusable problem” of bullying and harassment that “starts at the top”. He added: “We have only eight directors of nursing from a BME background and I need your help to change that. We have got to be the change we want to see… we have got to get rid of this discrimination which is clearly occurring.”

Mr Stevens also announced Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent had been appointed as England’s first dedicated chief midwife, alongside chief nursing officer Ruth May.

No substitute for graduate nurses – Stevens