Widening participation to nursing and midwifery

Recommendations to maximise career opportunities.

A range of measures to encourage people from a diverse range of backgrounds into nursing and midwifery have been recommended, following the publication of a major review.

Commissioned by Professor Fiona McQueen, Scotland’s Chief Nursing Officer, and chaired by Professor Paul Martin CBE, recommendations include a national campaign to recruit a more diverse workforce and tackle negative stereotypes, more flexible routes into education, and using the commissioning of training places to incentivise widening participation.  

Since being formed in April, the commission has worked closely with nurses, students, and those within the sector, to identify best practice and current barriers to entering the professions, and to make recommendations to address these.

The report was launched today by the Chief Nursing Officer and Professor Martin at the Ayr Campus of University of the West of Scotland. They and members of the commission met with students who entered nursing programmes through a variety of routes.

Chief Nursing Officer Fiona McQueen said:

“I want to thank Professor Martin for leading this work, underpinning our commitment to recruiting, retaining and developing a diverse workforce. These recommendations can help ensure we have the right number of people in education, completing their course, and enjoying a long and successful career – core to our ambitions for nursing and midwifery.

“The latest workforce statistics for NHS Scotland show we have a record number of staff – including nurses and midwives, who are at the heart of our health service. But we want to go further in promoting those careers across health and social care settings, and remove any barriers that might stand in the way.

“This report comes in the same week we saw the highest ever number of acceptances to nursing and midwifery courses at our universities. The actions set out will allow us to build on that, maximising the opportunities available and the people who can benefit from them.” 

Professor Paul Martin said:

“It was an honour to be asked to lead this important review. The Nursing and Midwifery professions remain at the heart of health and social care provision, championing the needs and rights of patients their families and communities. It is vital that as the demographics of Scotland changes we are positioned to respond with the right number of nurses and midwives, with the right skills, in the right place, doing the right things.

“The challenges and opportunities to encourage and support widening access to nursing and midwifery education could not be timelier. There are recognised pressures on flow into the health workforce. There are areas where nurses and midwives are difficult to recruit - not just by region but in clinical and service specialties and particularly in care homes. Add to that a change agenda in health and social care, the repositioning of acute care, and the age profile of the workforce it is clear there are pressures that need solutions now, and importantly, plans created and implemented for the future.

“This report seeks to surface and where possible address some of these concerns. The actions and recommendations outlined in the review will make a difference and encourage opportunity and flexibility, encouraging access to nursing and midwifery careers.”


The full report of the CNO's Commission on Widening Participation in Nursing and Midwifery Education and Careers is available online. Recommendations include:

  • A national recruitment campaign, including a reflection of the diversity of Scotland’s population and workforce, and tackling stereotypical perceptions of nurses and midwives.
  • Make recommendations for attracting more men to the professions, with realistic targets to achieve this.
  • Development of a common articulation framework for nursing and midwifery careers, which enables flexible entry and exit points and consistently recognises prior learning.
  • Further exploration of the apprenticeship model as a way of accessing pre-registration education.
  • Adoption of a positive approach to commissioning pathways to nursing and midwifery education, to incentivise widening participation. 

Professor Martin is Depute Principal at University of the West of Scotland. He previously served as CNO for Scotland, and Chief Executive of NHS Highland and NHS Orkney.

The commission is a key part of wider work to ensure a sustainable nursing and midwifery workforce in Scotland, set out in the National Health and Social Care Workforce Plan – Part 1, published in June 2017. It also an important strand of the 2030 Nursing Vision, which aims to shape the future of the nursing profession.


Media enquiries

Back to top