• NHS chief executive tells King’s Fund conference debate about nursing bursaries is “clearly back in play”
  • Stevens says he is “determined” to make NHS voice heard

Simon Stevens has said the debate over reintroducing a nursing bursary is “back in play” because the NHS needs a bigger pipeline of newly qualified nurses.

Speaking at the King’s Fund leadership and management summit on 10 July, Mr Stevens said there needed to be a “much bigger upturn in the pipeline of new nurses and that in turn will get us into a debate about the financing of undergraduate nurse education”.

“There has been a big debate about bursaries and their removal, which as we look at the way the student loan system is working, that is clearly back in play as a big question we’ve got to answer as a nation,” he said.

“I am determined to make sure the NHS voice is heard as part of that debate,” he added.

HSJ asked NHS England for further clarity about Mr Stevens’ statements but it declined to comment further.

In his speech, Mr Stevens cited the recently published Augar report on funding of higher education as reopening the debate on student finance.

George Osborne scrapped the nurse bursary in 2015 and switched funding to student loans as part of reforms to lift what he described as an artificial cap on student numbers. It was the reforms would encourage an increase in the number of nursing students.

However, UCAS figures revealed the number of nursing students achieving places at English universities fell in 2017 and 2018, with more than 40,000 current nursing vacancies in the NHS.

Mr Stevens said in March there should be a meaningful expansion of training places and called on the NHS to work locally with universities to create new places and identify the funding necessary for clinical placements.

Speaking at the HSJ Patient Safety Congress earlier this month, chief nursing officer Ruth May revealed NHSE and Improvement were now funding new clinical placements directly with cash given to nursing directors outside of the NHS tariff funding system. She said she was concentrating “heavily” on increasing nursing clinical placements to boost the graduate supply by this September.

Asked about nurse staffing levels, Ms May said a “financial incentive” was part of attracting new nurses but also “how we promote our profession and consider how we support students in the future”.