More trained nurses crucial for Sweden!

17 November 2023

There is currently a raging shortage on nurses in Swedish health and medical care, and simultaneously, demography and developments in healthcare indicate an increased need for nurses also in the future. The topmost obstacle to train more nurses is the lack of placement opportunities. As a result, I will soon hand in a proposal for measures to increase the number of high-quality placement opportunities to the Government.

Beside working as a University Director, I have spent the last year on a government mandate as a special inquiry officer and national coordinator with the aim to increase placement opportunities in nursing programmes.

Hans Wiklund, University Director

Photo: Mattias Pettersson

Nurses are a large and incredibly important occupational group in health and medical care. As you have probably noticed, there is currently a shortage on trained nurses in the labour market – and the situation ahead is not looking any brighter. No, rather the opposite. To cover the needs in health and medical care, the nursing programmes would have to increase by 20 per cent by 2035, according to recent prognoses. The shortage on nurses is estimated to worsen the existing lack of specialist nurses and midwifes – two occupational groups requiring additional master's level training after a completed nursing degree.

In my position as national coordinator, one important task is to contact and initiate discussions with all stakeholders that can contribute to increasing the number of nurses in training. Consequently, I have spent this year in a vast number of meetings across the country with numerous higher education institutions, regional health authorities, municipalities, private care providers, representatives of student unions, trade unions and trade associations, and others. Common for all is a clear willingness to contribute to find solutions. There are also many good examples of local initiatives. But these stakeholders have also identified structural and resource-related obstacles standing in the way of the willingness to contribute to be turned into desired results.

Many of these obstacles are the result of changes in higher education and health and medical care. The current collaboration model between higher education institutions and healthcare dates back to 2002 when the Government took over authority of health sciences programmes. Study programmes offered in greater geographical areas and with distance-based learning, more private care providers with a nationwide coverage, increased emphasis on close-to-home health and medical care being municipal authority's responsibility challenges traditional local collaboration between universities and regional health authorities when it comes to nursing programmes.

More opportunities for placements and clinical training are needed. The shortage on placements is the most frequently cited hindrance for expanding available places on nursing programmes. The problem accelerated in January 2023 when the Government implemented the requirement on a minimum of placement hours in the Higher Education Ordinance based on the EU directive on the recognition of professional qualifications, a directive that had actually been in place since 2005. According to the survey our investigation has completed – with the help of the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) – 25 of Sweden's higher education institutions that offer nursing programmes need to increase their placements by 30 per cent on average. Even if there are huge differences between various higher education institutions, the requirement certainly constitutes an enormous challenge with the effect that plans to expand nursing programmes have had to be put on ice.

Measures are necessary to set up the right conditions for more high-quality placements. This is not only a pressing matter for Swedish health and medical care, but also for Umeå University, which plays a key part in talent acquisition of physicians, dentists, nurses and many other healthcare professionals in the northern region. I will soon be handing over the proposals from our investigation to the Swedish Government.

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