Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
by Liz Sturley
07 February 2023
Associate Feature: Defusing nursing's ticking timebomb

Nurse Leeanne MacPherson | Credit: Neil Hanna

Partner content

Associate Feature: Defusing nursing's ticking timebomb

The current shortfall in nursing staff across Scotland has recently been widely reported. It is an issue facing the healthcare workforce across the whole of the UK and Europe which the World Health Organisation has described as a “ticking timebomb”.

Multiple strategic solutions are required but here at The Open University (OU) in Scotland we believe an important pillar is providing more accessible routes that open up nursing to more people.

Our Future Nurse Programme provides paths for those already working in healthcare roles to become registered nurses. Uniquely, participants can study for a degree while staying in their healthcare support role, so they continue to earn while they learn, and employers retain talent and capacity in the sector.

The programme has proven to be a resilient model. It is estimated that as many as one in four student nurses leave before the end of their nursing programme citing finances and lack of understanding of what studying for a nursing degree may entail, but with the OU nursing degree, we have over 90 per cent of participants completing successfully. Degrees are approved by the Nursing Midwifery Council and all four fields of nursing practice offered: adult, mental health, learning disability, and children and young people.

Healthcare support workers make up 28 per cent of the nursing and midwifery workforce. This means there are over 19,000 skilled staff with the potential to be qualified nurses. There is no minimum education qualification requirement to be a healthcare support worker, so many of them lack the qualifications required for most pre-registration nursing programmes.

“It is such a rewarding job and, in many cases, you follow the patient for some time in their journey. I’ve supported people in various settings, from hospital into the community, and also in prison.”

A fundamental part of the OU’s open access ethos is that we are open to everyone, regardless of qualifications or location. We provide access and additional support to Future Nurse programme applicants to help them meet the minimum numeracy and literacy criteria required by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. It means we can provide life-changing opportunities for people who might never have dreamed to become registered nurses.

Leeanne MacPherson from Cumnock, Ayrshire (pictured), is one such nurse. She left school at aged 16 to work in a jeans factory. She eventually went to college to do an HNC in social care which led to work in the public sector supporting individuals with mental health issues. However, it was when she began working for the NHS as a nursing assistant that she felt like she’d finally found her “vocation”, and this in turn opened up a path to achieve an OU degree in mental health nursing.

With three children to support, Leeanne says this wouldn’t have been possible without the OU’s flexibility: “The OU course allowed me to remain employed full-time whilst studying. This meant that there was financial stability for my family whilst I was working towards my degree.”

Leeanne’s degree costs were covered by the Scottish Government which also provides funding to cover her role when she was away on placement and study leave. From October 2023 we will be working with all of Scotland’s health boards and many independent health care providers on the programme, which is particularly effective in remote and rural areas.

We believe we can work further with health boards to develop their nursing capacity building on the success of our programme and scaling it up to provide more effective routes into the profession.

Liz Sturley is the Nation Manager for Scotland in The Open University’s School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top