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Friday, 13 December, 2002, 00:28 GMT
'Chronic shortage' of children's nurses
Nurses
More children's nurses are needed, says the RCN
There is a chronic shortage of children's nurses because there are too few training places, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.

It estimates there is a shortfall of around 20%, despite a huge increase in the numbers applying to become children's nurses.

A study by the RCN and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) say the lack of training places means up to two-thirds of applicants are rejected.

The colleges looked at 371 organisations in the NHS, independent and charity sectors.

We know there is no shortage of people wanting to train as children's nurses

Fiona Smith, RCN
They found another 2,769 children's nurses were needed, including around 1,328 current vacancies and a further 1,441 posts needed just to meet demand.

Almost two-thirds of NHS trusts said they did not have enough children's nurses.

A&E, neonatal care and acute children's wards reported the worst shortages.

Variation

Many of those who are initially unsuccessful in gaining a place to train as a children's nurse accept places on adult nursing courses instead, later taking a children's nursing course.

But the RCN warns this adds thousands to training costs and means it takes much longer to train nurses.

Figures from Hansard show it costs £39,000 to train an adult or children's nurse over three years.

But training a children's nurse after she has already qualified costs around £82,000 and takes around five years.

The study also found there was a wide variation in levels of specialist training available for children's nurses after qualification in areas such as paediatric oncology or paediatric and neonatal intensive care.

Just over a third of nurses caring for children with cancer have a specialist qualification.

In contrast, around two-thirds of nurses working in paediatric and neonatal intensive care have them, due, say the colleges, to significant investment in their training.

But this could also fall, because funding has now been reduced.

Shortfall

Fiona Smith, paediatric adviser at the RCN, said: "We know there is no shortage of people wanting to train as children's nurses, but the limited number of training places is seriously restricting numbers coming into the profession.

"This is causing a considerable shortfall which is having an effect on the level of care we can provide to children and their families.

"We need to develop a national workforce strategy and increase the number of training places as a matter of urgency."

But a Department of Health spokeswoman said more children's nurses were being trained.

"There are more nurses working in paediatric services now than there were five years ago.

"There are now over 17,000 paediatric nurses working in the NHS which is 2,300 more than in 1997 - representing a 15% increase.

"More children's nurses are being trained. The number of students entering the children's branch of nurse training has increased by 342 (19%) in the last two years to 2,172.

She said the department was also working closely with the colleges to look at staffing needs for the care of children, young people and expectant mothers, including a national framework for children's services.

Dr Evan Harris MP, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "Children¿s services has long been an overlooked area of hospital care.

"Because there are no Government targets ¿ like for waiting lists ¿ in this area, ministers are prepared to see vacancies rise and restrict training places to protect allegedly more politically sensitive areas such as adult waiting lists. "

See also:

12 Dec 02 | Scotland
17 Jun 02 | Health
28 Apr 99 | Health
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