(Photograph) - Nurses have called for higher bursaries to support training and more robust quality assurance arrangements to protect standards on courses.
Delegates at the Royal College of Nursing's annual congress in Harrogate this week voted overwhelmingly in favour of urging ministers to address an estimated 10,000 shortage of trained nurses.
RCN officials blamed insufficient student support, low morale and a growing number of older nurses leaving the profession for the staffing crisis.
While trainee nurses receive almost twice as much as undergraduates in maintenance support, nursing education leaders argue they do not benefit from many of the facilities available to most students, and they are not entitled to student loans.
Many live in accommodation attached to hospitals, the rents of which have quadrupled in some cases over the past few years.
The result, says Tom Bolger, RCN director of education, is poor recruitment and high drop-out rates.
Meanwhile, students still on courses to be replaced by diplomas introduced under Project 2000 are pressing for an increase in their bursaries as part of the nurses' review body pay claim.
"Over the past three years the NHS executive has been asking the Trusts for their forecasts of workforce training requirements. There seems to have been an awful lot of guesswork, which has led to a reduction in student numbers and a situation where bursaries have not been increased since 1991," Mr Bolger said.
The RCN is also calling for a review of the quality assurance arrangements for courses, as an increasing number of nursing colleges enter into partnerships with higher education institutions in the run-up to the abolition of regional authorities, which used to run the colleges, next March.
The English National Board for Nursing and Midwifery is responsible for monitoring standards. But colleges are calling for the Higher Education Quality Council to become involved.
"The HEQC has said in the past that nursing colleges are not within its remit, but we think as more become attached to higher education institutions the council ought to review that position," Mr Bolger added.