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Wednesday, September 23, 1998 Published at 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK


Luring nurses back into the NHS

The government is to offer grants to help former nurses retrain

Thousands of nurses who are leaving the NHS could be lured back in through a fast-track retraining system.

Health minister Alan Milburn has announced a £50m plan to increase the number of nurses working in the NHS by 15,000 over the next three years.

The plans include:

  • targeting the estimated 24,000 former enrolled nurses under the age of 55 who have left the profession and trying to bring them back to the NHS
  • extra training places for nurses, including an expansion of part-time, pre-registration courses for midwives and nursing
  • broadening the career structure for nurses through the introduction of nurse consultant posts, merit points for senior nurses and grants for over 1,000 health workers who want to train as nurses
  • putting in systems to improve nurses' working conditions, such as flexible work patterns and systems for reducing violence against staff. By April 2000, every health trust must have measures in place for monitoring violence.

The plan will come into effect immediately, although Mr Milburn told a Human Resource Conference in Oxford that it would take time for the benefits to be felt.

He said: "The tide has turned on the number of nurses in training. But I recognise that it will take time for the full benefits of this extra investment to emerge. After all, it takes three years to train a nurse."

[ image: Alan Milburn: the NHS should be the UK's best employer]
Alan Milburn: the NHS should be the UK's best employer
He admitted that pay was a "crucial factor" for attracting and retaining nurses, but said the government wanted a pay settlement which was "fair to nurses and affordable to the NHS".

He added: "Pay is important, but so is the quality of working lives of nursing staff. The health service is already the country's biggest employer. It should be our best employer too."

Health unions have welcomed the plan, but believe a substantial pay rise is the only way to stem the tide of nurses out of the NHS.

Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "The action the government is taking is welcome, but while a skilled, experienced staff nurse can earn less than someone joining the police force today, the shortage crisis will continue."


The announcement comes after a recent NHS Confederation report showed a nursing crisis in the NHS.

The report to the NHS pay review bodies suggests that more than three quarters of all hospitals are struggling to keep and recruit nurses and midwives at all levels.

It says there are nursing shortages in all areas, but more in specialist care.

The problem is worse for basic rate nurses and specialists in intensive care and care of the elderly.

The Nursing Standard magazine reports on Wednesday that health trusts are using increasingly imaginative ways to tempt back nurses, many of whom are now working in supermarkets.

These include offering nurses lotteries.

Department of Health figures show 140,000 nurses have left the profession, but the government says around 19,500 say they would return if conditions were right.


On Tuesday, Mr Milburn outlined new targets to deal with violence in hospitals, such as CCTV, improved layouts of accident and emergency units and panic buttons.

He encouraged employers to prosecute people who attack health workers and suggested that trust which did not meet targets could have their boards replaced.

Mr Milburn also said staff should work with managers to work out their career plans.

The Institute of Health Services Management welcomed the plans, but said pay was crucial to any NHS human resources strategy.

It added that there was scope for a "more visionary" strategy and asked to know the exact amount of money being put into human resources.

The British Medical Association welcomed the targets and the fact that the government was moving towards centralised monitoring of health and safety targets.

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