Diana Beech: London’s universities can help tackle national shortage of NHS nurses

Diana Beech: London’s universities can help tackle national shortage of NHS nurses

Workforce shortages are one of the biggest challenges facing our health service. In England, the NHS waiting list is growing four times faster than the nursing workforce. And data from NHS Digital show that London is suffering the worst staffing crisis in England, with “chronic nurse shortages” and more vacancies than any other region.

However, while London is feeling the strain most acutely it is also home to the highest concentration of world-leading universities and medical schools. These can play a pivotal role in addressing the NHS’s long-term workforce challenges and meeting the nation’s future healthcare needs. At London Higher – the body representing the diversity of higher education institutions across the capital – we are keen to show how the capital’s universities can do this.

Our #StudyNursingLondon campaign, launched in December and designed to inspire applicants to study nursing at London universities, has already reached over two million people on social media and gained support from skills minister Robert Halfon, NHS England and the NHS Confederation.

The campaign focuses on student voices, featuring a range of London nursing students telling their stories of how they came to be  seeking qualifications in the capital. Many touch on the value of work which benefits society, the flexibility of the profession, and the appeal of the practical aspects and skills it develops.

This week, we have joined forces with other representative bodies and mission groups from across the UK higher education sector to send a letter to the Secretaries of State for Education and Health, calling on the government to convene a new ministerial taskforce to better enable universities to respond to challenges in partnership with the NHS.

This is something we have already been doing at the London level through our London Healthcare Education Group, which brings together London’s healthcare education providers with NHS England to enable a quicker and more effective response to the capital’s challenges. It makes sense to build on this approach at a national level and create a further platform through which London’s universities can step up and help solve the pressing issue of nursing scarcity.

While there are no better advocates for the nursing profession than London’s current nursing students and graduates – as captured in our “hero video” – it is worth highlighting the many ways in which London’s universities are securing the future of the nursing career.

Innovative courses and learning environments

London’s universities have the expertise and resources to develop innovative nursing courses that cater to the evolving needs of the healthcare sector. By collaborating with healthcare providers and industry experts, they are designing curricula and work environments that equip aspiring nurses with the skills and knowledge required to excel in their roles.

One example is the state-of the-art hospital and primary care training hub at the University of East London, integrating cutting-edge technology and simulation-based training to produce healthcare graduates who are well-prepared to navigate the complexities of healthcare delivery in the capital.

Widening participation

To address the shortage of nurses effectively, it is vital we widen participation and attract individuals from varied backgrounds into the profession. London’s universities, often serving some of the most ethnically diverse communities in England, can lead the way in promoting nursing as a viable and rewarding career option, particularly among underrepresented groups.

This might involve outreach programmes targeting schools and local communities, such as London South Bank University’s immersion tours of its Havering campus. By opening up such possibilities, London institutions can help ensure that the profession reflects the demographics of the population it serves.

Collaborative partnerships

Finally, collaboration is key to addressing complex challenges. London’s universities continue to leverage their extensive networks to forge partnerships with other higher education institutions, healthcare organisations and external partners. At London Higher, we are proud to facilitate such intra-London collaborations through our annual London medicine and healthcare project funding – the recipients of which this year are progressing work to promote a culture of interdisciplinary and inclusive working within London’s healthcare sector.

Through their collaborative working and first-rate research and innovation, London’s universities are well-positioned to play a central role in addressing nursing shortages in the capital and beyond. As we address current NHS waiting lists and look toward a better future, the collective efforts of London’s universities, healthcare providers, and policymakers will be essential to ensuring that everyone has access to high-quality and compassionate healthcare when they most need it.

Diana Beech is chief executive of London Higher. Follow her on X/Twitter. Support On London and its writers for £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HEREPhoto from Barts Health NHS Trust.

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