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“Nurses need better support,” says OU Head of Nursing

Nurses must be given support from NHS managers to learn while they earn as part of a new drive to reverse the debilitating exodus from the profession, according to The Open University’s Head of Nursing.

Julie Messenger welcomed a report by the House of Commons Health Select Committee, which endorsed the need for different routes into nursing and emphasised the impact that current funding arrangements had on mature students.

In the report, the committee said too little attention had been given by the UK Government and NHS managers to programmes of “continuous professional development” for nurses – despite evidence that cuts in training budgets were a key factor behind the loss of experienced nurses. Other reasons were identified as high workloads, low pay and a sense of feeling undervalued.

Addressing the impact of removal of bursaries

The MPs said the UK Government needed urgently to assess the impact of the removal of nursing bursaries on numbers entering training and particularly on mature students.

Julie Messenger said: “While the issues currently threatening the nursing workforce are vast and wide-ranging, the recommendations in the report are reassuring on all counts, particularly in its consideration of mature students.

More nurses are leaving the profession than entering it, so it’s crucial that we take steps to improve retention and encourage the development of more nurses.

“While this is important across the UK, the work-based provision at the OU has consistently demonstrated success in retaining students at around 92% and has provided workforce stability.”

Real determination from healthcare support workers

The OU has long experience in training nurses and attracting applicants from a wide range of backgrounds. OU students start out in the NHS or other healthcare organisations working as healthcare support workers and, despite the pressures, show real determination in completing nursing and making a valued contribution to healthcare.

“Many students are immersed in their local community on entry to the programme and remain in that community once working as registered nurses. We also know from feedback from employers that OU students feel well supported,” said Julie.

“The important of ‘earn and learn’ for diversity and widening participation”

“We’ve been actively involved in the introduction of new routes, like registered nurse and nursing associate apprenticeships, and this report recognises the importance of the ‘earn and learn’ model in driving diversity and widening participation.

“But there is more to be done. It needs to be easier for trusts to use the apprenticeship levy to counter the loss of nursing bursaries, by extending it to cover salaries, as well as training costs. Additionally as part-time and distance learning students, we need to ensure that they have access to other resources such as Maintenance Loans to encourage application from widening participation groups.”


More information about qualifications in nursing at the OU are available on our website.

About Author

Rachel is Deputy Head of the Media Relations team. She is a skilled communicator with more than ten years’ experience in Public Relations. She holds a BA (Hons) Media Production from the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside. Rachel specialises in stories from the Faculty of Business and Law, students, academic research, BBC programmes, technology, innovation and skills. Rachel has three large dogs, two children and enjoys growing her own veg.

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