The number of people from England applying to train as a nurse this year continues to be lower than the same point in 2017, sparking fresh criticism of government ministers for failing to “get a grip on the nurse training situation”.
In February, official statistics revealed applicants were down by 13% compared with 2017, meaning they had declined for the second year in a row and were down by around 33% overall since student bursaries were removed in 2016.
The latest figures, released today by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) and based on the most recent application deadline of 24 March, show the trend is continuing.
“The continued failure of ministers to get a grip on the nurse training situation will jeopardise care for patients”
They reveal a 14% reduction in the number of people from England applying to study nursing compared with last year – 31,750 people applied to university by the end of March, but in 2017 it was 36,720.
At the same point in 2016, when bursaries were still available, a total of 47,390 had applied, meaning there has been a 33% drop.
In Northern Ireland, the number of people applying to study nursing this year – 2,380 – has continued to be lower than in 2017, now by 7%.
“Ministers must redouble efforts to get students into nursing courses in September this year”
However, in Wales, the number of applicants has partly recovered since the initial drop in February. The number of people applying – 2,780 – is the same as in 2017, though this is still 10% lower than in 2016.
In contrast, the number of people from Scotland who have applied to nursing courses this year continues to be higher than the same point last year – and also slightly above 2016. A total of 5,150 people have applied to train as a nurse so far this year compared with 5,140 in 2016.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, warned the continued drop in applicants threatened patient care.
“The continued failure of ministers to get a grip on the nurse training situation will jeopardise care for patients,” she said, commenting on the UCAS figures.
“The government may have agreed to increase starting salaries for nurses but, in isolation, that will not be enough to bring in the tens of thousands more we need. More incentives are needed to make it as attractive as possible,” she added.
“Ministers must redouble efforts to get students into nursing courses in September this year. Across the board, nursing students must be encouraged and supported – the government should resolve the loans fiasco and abandon its latest bursary plans,” said Ms Davies.
Meanwhile, RCN Scotland associate director Ellen Hudson said: “It’s good to see the level of interest in nursing courses in Scotland has been maintained.
Bursary ‘protected’ for Scottish student nurses in 2017-18
”The Scottish government’s commitment to the bursary has contributed to ensuring that nursing is still an attractive choice for students in Scotland but this is not enough,” said Ms Hudson.
“We know we need to train more nurses and we know that, despite the bursary, financial pressures still play a significant part in the ability of students to apply for and complete their nursing studies,” she noted.
She added: “We will be working with the Scottish government to look at the options available and pressing them to improve the financial support for Scotland’s nursing students.”