Nurses' job fears as cash crisis deepens

PUBLISHED: 09:21 30 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:07 22 October 2010

Hundreds of student nurses face a stark choice between the dole queue or taking jobs as cheap hospital labour as they become the latest victims of East Anglia's NHS funding crisis.

Hundreds of student nurses face a stark choice between the dole queue or taking jobs as cheap hospital labour as they become the latest victims of East Anglia's NHS funding crisis.

Only two out of every 10 nurses qualifying this summer from 20 universities across the country have secured a job.

But an even bleaker picture emerged last night in East Anglia - with one Norfolk hospital revealing that only one in 10 of its student nurses have been offered full-time posts.

The warning from the Council of Deans, which represents university medical faculties, comes despite a desperate need for more frontline medical staff.

Fears emerged last night the bleak outlook for the latest generation of nurses could deter people from signing up to study nursing in future.

Many of those set to qualify in September believe their only option is to accept auxiliary posts - normally occupied by unqualified staff - where they could be forced to carry out full nursing duties on a fraction of the pay.

Gail Adams, head of nursing at Unison, said it was “immoral and unethical” to allow people to devote years to training and then face an acute employment shortage.

It was also a disgraceful waste of taxpayers' money, she said.

It is estimated that it costs between £7,000 to £10,000 to train at nurse at the UEA.

Ms Adams added: “Student nurses are frustrated, angry and disillusioned because of the difficulties they face finding jobs as deficits bite.

“It is clear that the Department of Health has failed to forward plan, or we would not be in this dire situation. There is an overall shortage of nurses across the NHS, these cut backs are a short-term, short-sighted solution.”

Theresa Budrey from the Royal College of Nursing described it as “an extremely worrying time for nurses”. She added: “Norfolk could lose the nurses they have trained up.”

In September, 52 student nurses will graduate from the UEA followed by another 60 in April.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital faces a deficit of £15m by the end of this year. It hopes to be able to offer some form of work to all UEA students but a spokesman conceded many more than normal will be forced into assistant nursing posts, bank staff roles or auxiliary positions.

Nick Coveney, director of nursing at the James Paget Hospital near Gorleston, said 20 nurses will qualify this summer. Only two have so far secured positions.

He said: “The process is ongoing and hopefully more will find full-time jobs but it is unavoidable that a lot of them will have to be part-time, at least to begin with.

“Compared to previous years the situation is much worse and it is a worrying time for those involved. But it is the same across the NHS with trusts everywhere having funding problems.”

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn has 35 nurses qualifying this summer, 25 of which have applied for jobs at the hospital. It hopes to be able to offer jobs to 12 of these.

Richard Humphries from the hospital said it hoped to be able to offer jobs to more but the situation was complicated by an ongoing staff review.

Fourteen student nurses have expressed an interest in working at West Suffolk Hospital. A spokesman said they were unable to confirm the number that would be offered posts but due to efficiency reviews existing staff would be given priority.

One student nurse who graduates this year said: “If as qualified nurses we accept auxiliary posts we are in danger of being used as cheap labour on understaffed wards since we possess the same skills as the staff nurses on the wards.”

Another said she had accrued debts of £20,000 only to find herself facing the prospect of part-time wages.

Norwich North MP Dr Ian Gibson described the situation as appalling and said the financial problems did not negate the need for more nurses.

Andrew Stronach, a spokesman for the N&N, said: “We are working very hard with the UEA medical school to ensure who those who wish to apply for positions will get some kind of job.

“Some of these roles will be full-time while a lot of others will be part-time. It is uncertain what proportion will be able to secure full-time work but there is no doubt it will be fewer than normal.

“Part-time work may not be what those involved would ideally like but we are working in a very difficult situation with the current climate within the NHS. Hospitals in other parts of the country will not be able to take on any student nurses at all this year.”

Kate Guyon, head of the UEA school of nursing and midwifery, said: “We are working very closely with our local trust partners to ensure that as many qualifying student nurses and midwives as possible gain employment with the trust of their choice.

“This includes making every effort to ensure that they have access to the experience and programmes they need as newly qualified practitioners.

“We are very impressed with the way that the trusts are endeavouring to do all they can for our qualifying students in the context of the financial situation that they face.”

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