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Healthcare degree funding: making the reforms work

Steve West

Professor Steve West

Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive
University of the West of England, Bristol

In November last year, Universities UK (UUK) gave its support to the Government’s decision to reform the system of funding for student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals in England.

This was a difficult call to make. There are of course risks in any major change and, make no mistake, this is a major change, affecting 30,000 new students every year across more than 60 UUK member institutions. But we strongly believe that the new system will better meet the needs of students and universities as well as future workforce requirements of health and social care.

Students will benefit from a 25% increase in the support available and will of course only repay the costs of training once they earn over a certain threshold (The Council of Deans of Health estimates that a newly qualified nurse will pay back around £5.20 per month).

Universities will benefit from a sustainable funding model. The NHS will gain up to 10,000 additional nursing, midwifery and allied health degree places without compromising on quality whilst private providers will no longer be able to free ride the costs of training staff.

Universities collaborate effectively with the health and social care system. We provide the graduates health providers need. We partner with them on research and other activities too. Our reputation in the health sector is strong. That will, of course, continue in the new funding environment.

We will work with health and social care providers to develop the high quality workforce they need: introducing new ways to deliver undergraduate and postgraduate provision, and building partnerships with schools. As the burden of ill health becomes ever more complex and costly, these 12 professions will be at the heart of any future plans for the NHS and broader care system as it integrates across primary, secondary and community settings and coordinates multidisciplinary team care around the needs of patients.

In the transition to the new system, we at UUK, in partnership with the Council of Deans of Health, will work with Government to make sure that the conditions are right to sustain demand for these courses – especially amongst mature applicants – and that an effective and fair system of placements is implemented, based on close partnership with health and social care employers. Member institutions are, in most cases, already gearing up to meet the new opportunities and intakes in 2017-18. We must communicate in the most positive terms that if someone is interested in healthcare professions, they should absolutely follow their dream and apply to university. They should not let these changes interfere with their future aspirations.

Much will change in this new system, but some things will continue to be the same. People will still want to train as nurses, midwives and other allied health professionals. The wider public will still expect and receive high quality care.

The graduates we train will continue to be motivated by a fundamental desire to deliver this excellent care and help improve patient health and quality of life. The only thing we can say with certainty is that we need more of these committed professionals. Those with the skills, aptitude and desire to train are exactly the individuals with the abilities to benefit from health professional education. As graduates, global in outlook, they will always be in demand, not just by the NHS, but across a range of employers and professions, and across a range of settings and countries.

Professor Steve West, is Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of the West of England and chair of Universities UK’s Health Education and Research Policy Network

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