Universities and colleges must improve clinical placements and cut dropout rates if they are to meet targets for increasing the number of student nurses, according to a report from the Royal College of Nursing this week.
According to the NHS Plan, published in July, the government expects that by 2004, 5,500 more nurses, midwives and health visitors will be trained each year than today. It also expects 20,000 more nurses to be employed by the NHS in England by 2004.
Making up the Difference, a report commissioned from Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh by the RCN, says that if retirement and other losses stay at their current rate, the NHS will need to recruit more than 110,000 new nurses over the period to meet this target.
"Less than half of these will come from education," it says. "This leaves a shortfall of almost 57,000 to be met from 'returners' and overseas recruitment."
Between 1994-95 and 1999-2000 the number of pre-registration nursing students in the UK increased by 16,000 to 58,000. But despite this upturn, the report says: "The NHS, together with higher education and others, will have to work hard to sustain this growth in the face of falling numbers of school-leavers and expanding opportunities in higher education. The challenges of high discontinuation rates and the need for sufficient good-quality clinical placements also have to be faced."
Eileen Martin, chair of the council of deans and heads for UK faculties of nursing, midwifery and health visiting, said: "Most universities are taking increases in nursing students, but we are having to work closely with chief nurses to ensure that there are the clinical placements available."
She added: "We also need more funding for clinical staff posts."
The RCN said 20 per cent of students who start a nursing course do not join the nursing register. It called for a higher student bursary and additional allowances for mature students, cadet schemes for 16-year-olds and fast tracking for people with previous experience, and a review of concerns among nurse teachers.