THE financial crisis in universities is ‘engulfing’ nursing courses, as more than six in ten (61 per cent) nurse lecturers and other higher education nursing staff across the UK report redundancies and recruitment freezes.

The situation is particularly severe in England, where university finances are under even more extreme pressure. The university regulator, the Office for Students, says 40 per cent of English universities will be reporting deficits this year.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) argues that without immediate financial support for universities, the number of qualified nurses could fall to critical levels, putting patient safety at risk. Across the UK, there are currently at least 41,000 vacant registered nurse posts.

The RCN’s survey shows that 54 out of 72 (75 per cent) universities offering nursing degree courses in England are being forced to reduce staffing costs, as the impact of frozen tuition fees and a decline in international student numbers continues to bite. Cuts and redundancies at dozens of universities in England would critically undermine the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan’s ability to deliver growth in the number of student nurses.

One nurse educator working in Yorkshire said: “We are facing an emergency in nurse education. Reductions in educators will ultimately impact on quality of patient care, retention of students and student experience.”

Another, working in London, said: “I think this will be the straw that broke the camel’s back. A significant number of experienced lecturers are taking redundancies, it will make the delivery of our courses significantly more difficult.”

The RCN says urgent action is required to avert a growing catastrophe in the higher education sector, which risks job losses for hundreds of experienced nurse educators and damage to the recruitment and education of tens of thousands of nursing students.

To address the crisis, the RCN is calling for the next government to deliver an emergency financial intervention to stabilise higher education institutions within 100 days of taking office.

The new government should also look to incentivise prospective nursing students, either through upfront funded tuition fees or loan forgiveness as recognition for public service. This would help stabilise courses further, the RCN says.

The survey follows analysis from the RCN which showed that student nurse numbers have dramatically declined, to the extent that the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan for England is projected to fall short of its target by more than 10,000 by 2025.

Acting General Secretary and Chief Executive Professor, Nicola Ranger, said: “Nursing is a degree-educated, highly skilled and safety-critical profession, but the very people who teach and train the nurses of the future are being made redundant. The financial crisis in universities is threatening to engulf nursing – we need action now to stop a total collapse of courses.

“What is happening in universities will impact the NHS, the care sector, and their ability to provide safely staffed services. The higher education sector educates and trains the vast majority of nurses and without an urgent intervention, ministers and health leaders will face a deepening nurse recruitment crisis.

“This summer, the government must deliver financial support to stabilise universities. This cannot wait. And we must see ministers protect nursing courses by properly incentivising people to study the profession. That’s how to secure the workforce of the future and protect patient safety.”

* Source: Royal College of Nursing