Home Grown Nurses for Gloucestershire

Trudi carrying on nursing in the Glos Royal Hospital

Trudi carrying on nursing in the Glos Royal Hospital

Hardly a day passes without a newspaper putting the words ‘crisis’ and ‘NHS’ together. In Chinese there are two characters for crisis, and they literally translate as ‘danger opportunity’. This is a crisis in Gloucestershire healthcare – and I’m taking three steps to make the most of an opportunity, and to avoid the danger.

Firstly, our bid soon for a Gloucestershire Health University Technical College (UTC). The health sector is our biggest employer in the county (50,000 jobs) and city (12,000), and this UTC will give pupils a chance to get BTECs in Health and Care, alongside GCSEs and A levels, plus masses of health related work experience, which should open up many job opportunities for them later. You can find more about this here: http://gloucestershireutc.co.uk/

But there is still a skills training gap after school – especially for nurses. Every year we need over 400 new nurses for the needs of our 3 NHS Trusts, many private care homes, the Winfield Hospital and GPs surgeries. At the moment we aren’t training anything like that number in our county.

Under the old system there was a top down decision on how many nursing places to offer, and a local monopoly on pre-registration training with the University of the West of England (UWE), which has a base in Gloucester Docks but couldn’t produce nearly enough nurses for our needs. As a result Gloucestershire has been importing nurses from all over the country, Spain, Portugal and more recently the Philippines. Twice I’ve had to write to Home Secretary Theresa May to seek her support for our Hospitals Trust to recruit more Filipinos and Filipinas to come and work here.

Don’t get me wrong on this: I once ran an airline in Manila, love the country, speak their language and am currently the PM’s Trade Envoy for the Philippines. But I don’t think the best solution for Gloucestershire is to rely on Philippine nationals for our nursing needs. We should be able to train our own nurses locally.

In the brave new world quotas and monopolies are done away, allowing anyone to apply to study nursing and any university to apply to train them, making the provision of skills locally much more possible. Yes nurses will get loans not grants now, but there are much more generous maintenance grants to recognise nursing undergraduates have little time to earn while doing their required work experience. The door is now open for lots more Gloucestershire nursing students, who are more likely to stay in our county when trained in Cheltenham and Gloucester – if our local university can offer the course.

So the crucial development, is how the Uni of Glos can move forward with the NHS and other health partners to get that approval. If it does, that paves the way for the third element in our nursing strategy that I am very keen on: a pilot project for Nursing Associates.

The plan from this government is for a 2 year Higher Apprenticeship course as the qualification for a Nursing Associate, who will fulfill many vital nursing tasks. Ministers need to agree and confirm the regulatory arrangements and then enable the Health Executive to run pilot projects. I’ve raised with the Prime Minister, Ministers and the Health Executive my strong enthusiasm and support for the Uni of Glos to run one of these pilots, with training and work experience in both Gloucester and Cheltenham.

My neighbour in Cheltenham, Alex Chalk MP, completely agrees that if we had a UTC, a Nursing Associates pilot project and pre-registration training all available in our county then we would have the potential to become one of the leading areas of home grown health sector specialists. We both feel this would make a huge difference to jobs being won locally, to patients and to both public and private bodies in the healthcare sector.

So keep an eye out for local news on courses for pre-registration nurses at the University of Gloucestershire: for a national announcement on the establishment on Nursing Associates, and then the opportunity for our Uni to train Nursing Associates here in Glos.

Alongside news of our UTC bid soon, having a Nursing Associates pilot scheme and training more nurses for degrees locally would mean great opportunities, not dangers. Over time we could even get rid of the word ‘crisis’ when it comes to nursing provision in Gloucestershire. It’s a goal worth going for.