£10,000 ‘golden hellos’ to attract mental health and learning disability nurses

Golden hellos of £10,000 will be used to attract students to hard-to-recruit nursing disciplines, the Government has said as Labour failed to overturn wider cuts.

Health minister Steve Barclay said the intention is to offer the incentives to help mental health, learning disability and district nursing as part of a £10 million package.

The proposal was welcomed by Sarah Wollaston, Conservative chair of the Health Select Committee, and came as Labour argued against Government plans to scrap the nursing bursary for postgraduate students as part of reforms to funding and financial support.

But the Opposition’s move to annul the statutory instrument introducing the regulations was defeated by 295 votes to 234, majority 61, and by 273 votes to 199, majority 74 when only English MPs are taken into consideration due to the changes only affecting England.

Speaking during the debate, Mr Barclay (pictured) said: “It’s the Government’s intention, applying in conjunction with colleagues in the Department for Education some of the lessons taken from teaching with targeted support, to offer golden hellos to postgraduate students in specific hard-to-recruit disciplines – namely mental health, learning disability and district nursing – with a package of £10,000 as an incentive to reflect the fact that often those disciplines have particular difficultly in recruiting.

“That is a £9.1 million package which will also be supplemented by a further £900,000 to mitigate in any areas where a geographical area has a particular challenge in terms of recruiting.”

Dr Wollaston, intervening, said applicants for learning disability and mental health nursing tend to be older and more likely to stay.

She said: “I’m very grateful to the minister for listening to our concerns and, I’m sure, in putting the needs of patients first by allowing these targeted extra packages – it’s very welcome.”

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner earlier warned 700 fewer students are currently training to be nurses compared to 2017 – in what she said was the first fall in close to a decade.

Ms Rayner said ministers believed they could “fill the gap” created by scrapping bursaries for postgraduate nursing students with nursing apprenticeships, and promised 1,000 of them.

“Yet it has now been revealed that just 30 apprentice nurses have started those courses,” she said.

“To miss a target may be unfortunate, but to miss it by 97% and carry on regardless just seems reckless to me.”

She said a nursing apprentice will take four years to become a registered nurse, and warned: “Even if there is a miraculous surge in apprentices starting this summer we will not see any new qualified nurses in our wards until 2022.”

Ms Rayner added: “Only two months ago the Health Secretary said that the winter crisis in our NHS was probably the worst ever, but if he carries on like this there will be worse to come.”

Tory Rachel Maclean (Redditch) accused Ms Rayner of talking about student debt as though it is “some sort of credit card debt” after the Labour frontbencher said a new nurse with a postgraduate qualification would take “86 years to repay their undergraduate debt on the average NHS salary before you even add interest”.

Labour MP and nurse Karen Lee (Lincoln) intervened, saying: “When I did my nurse training I started in 2000, I was a single mum, when I finished I had £15,000 worth of debt and that was with a bursary.

“It took me five years to pay that off, and you talk about people not talking about debt… debt is debt, you come out with debt, I came out with debt.

“I stand here and I listen to people who frankly know nothing about this talking about it in a way as if they do and it’s simply not true.”

Mr Barclay said the change to the bursary enabled the Government to “continue the increase in nurses that this Government has delivered and do so including for the postgraduate route just as we have done already for undergraduates”.

He said the claim that there are 700 fewer nurses in training was a “selective picking of the facts because it doesn’t include direct entrants”.

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