Universities in England are continuing to see a drop in the number of people they have placed on nursing courses this year compared with the same point in 2016, the latest official data has revealed.
Figures released today by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show 19,670 people from England have secured a place on an undergraduate nursing programme starting from this autumn.
This represents a 6% drop compared with the same time last year, by which point 20,880 applicants had been placed – and reflects the same situation a week ago.
- New students with place on nursing course down 8% in England
- Number of new student nurses placed at university still lagging behind 2016
In addition, the number of people aged over 25 who have so far been placed continues to be lower than last year – by 12%. So far 7,950 people in this age group have secured a place to train, but last year it was 8,990.
Today’s figures showed there are still a further 2,600 students in England with an offer to study nursing and a further 13,160 who may be placed via clearing.
But the pool of people available through clearing this year is 40% smaller than the same point in 2016, when there were 21,880 applicants in this group.
This is the first year that new student nurses will no longer receive bursaries and will instead have to take out loans to cover tuition fees and living costs, as set out by the government.
“Meeting the target to fill 10,000 places by 2020 is beginning to look like a significant challenge”
When A-level results were announced two weeks ago, UCAS figures showed 16,100 nursing students have been placed on a course in England by that point, which represented an 8% drop compared with 2016.
At the time, unions said the figures cast doubt on the government’s expectation that the number of healthcare students would increase by 10,000 by 2020, calling for “transparency” over how ministers intended to monitor a boost to trainee numbers.
Today, the Royal College of Nursing warned the latest data showed student numbers still had not expanded, and that the government was running out of time to ensure this happened.
Additional funding for healthcare students’ clinical placements announced by the Department of Health last month was a “step in the right direction”, but it would still be a challenge to train 10,000 extra nurses, said the RCN.
“Universities will have to work extremely hard over the next three weeks to fill the first 1,500 extra placements this year, it warned.
”Meeting the target to fill 10,000 places by 2020 is beginning to look like a significant challenge for the government,” said RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies.
“It is also not clear how many of these places will ultimately result in more nurses entering the system, and the Department of Health must be transparent and honest throughout the process,” she said.
“And with more people leaving the register than joining it, these extra places hardly begin to address the 40,000 nurse vacancies in England alone,” she added.
Today marks the last point at which UCAS will report on how quickly nursing courses are being filled now that they have entered the clearing process, until December. Clearing continues until the end of October for courses starting up to the end of 2017.
A Department of Health spokeswoman noted 20,180 students - from within and outside the UK - had been placed on nursing courses in England so far. Of those, 19,380 are students from England.
“As always, these figures show there still is strong demand for nursing and midwifery courses,” she said.
“This is why we recently responded to calls from the higher education sector and committed to funding up to an additional 10,000 training places by 2020 – meaning more talented students can fulfil their potential as our future NHS nurses and midwives,” she added.