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New nursing student numbers fall for second year running after end of bursary in England


New figures revealing a drop in nursing student numbers have escalated fears about the future of the profession already in the grip of a staffing crisis.

Data released today shows 21,030 applicants have secured a place on university nursing programmes across the UK so far this year – a 2% reduction from last year and an 8% fall from 2016.

“It’s time for ministers to take decisive action to address the nursing shortage and keep patients safe”

Donna Kinnair

The decline has been driven by a sharp crash in new students from England and European Union countries outside the UK, according to latest figures published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) after A-Level results were received.

Conversely, there has been a slight rise in applicants from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and non-EU countries being placed on courses.

The statistics reveal that 15,490 people from England have been accepted on a nursing course, which is a 4% drop on 2017 and 11% reduction from two years ago.

Meanwhile, the number of EU students set to embark on nursing programmes in the UK currently stands at 330 – a drop of 23% since 2016, the year of the Brexit vote.

“We need to see sustained and targeted action to encourage more people to enter healthcare professions”

Katerina Kolyva

A further 7,960 students have a holding offer for a nursing course and up to 14,540 could receive a place through clearing.

The figures are revealed against a backdrop of a snowballing recruitment and retention crisis facing nursing and the wider NHS.

The Royal College of Nursing estimates there to be around 40,000 nursing vacancies in England’s health care services alone.

The downward trend in placed nursing students at this stage follows the continued fall in applicants revealed by UCAS earlier this year.

As reported by Nursing Times, a total of 35,260 people from England applied to study nursing at university next year, compared with the 40,060 who had applied by the same point in 2017, according to the UCAS report.

The RCN blamed the latest slump in nursing student numbers on the government’s controversial decision to scrap bursaries for pre-registration nurses from August 2017 in favour of a loans system.

Dame Donna Kinnair, the union’s director of nursing policy and practice, said: “Ministers’ decisions on student funding have left nursing in managed decline. Today’s figures should be the wake-up call the government needs to properly address the staffing crisis that’s putting safe and effective patient care at risk.”

“It is time to stop tinkering around the edges – the government’s ad-hoc approach is clearly not working,” said Dame Donna.

“We urgently need comprehensive workforce plans that safeguard recruitment and retention and responds to patient need in each country,” she said. “This should include a range of incentives to attract more nursing students.

Royal College of Nursing

Leading nurse becomes patient safety charity patron

Source: Kate Stanworth

Donna Kinnair

“Though we will see additional students placed through clearing in the coming weeks, today’s figures mean fewer nurses will enter our understaffed healthcare system in three years’ time, further jeopardising patient care. This situation cannot be allowed to continue,” said Dame Donna.

She added: “The government is nowhere near recruiting the 10,000 extra health care students we were promised by 2020. We need nurses with the education and skills to lead patient care. It’s time for ministers to take decisive action to address the nursing shortage and keep patients safe.”

The RCN also raised concerns about the continued drop in mature students. The UCAS figures show 6,260 people aged 25 and over from England have been accepted on nursing courses – falling from 6,570 in 2017 and 7,450 in 2016.

This change threatens to further destabilise learning disability and mental health nursing, which have been worst hit by staffing woes and have traditionally relied on students with significant life experience, the RCN warned.

“There are currently 52,000 nurses in NHS training with more to come”

DHSC spokesman

On the other hand, the number of 18-year-olds receiving a placement has reached the highest level since 2009.

The statistics also reveal the ongoing gender disparity in the profession, with just one in every 11 nursing students so far this year being male.

The team behind The Student Nurse Project – a community of nursing students and newly qualified nurses – has reacted to the latest figures.

In a statement to Nursing Times, group members said: “As nursing students and newly qualified nurses, when we see that there are at least 40,000 nursing vacancies already in England’s healthcare services alone, we are very concerned about the constant pressures that we will find ourselves under and the dangers to safe and effective care for our patients.”

They added: “Whilst the bursary wasn’t perfect, its removal in England has clearly had an effect on the number of student nurses starting this September.”

“We implore the government looks into funding options, whether bursaries, or other financial relief in order to enable others into the profession and protect the future workforce of the NHS and patient safety,” the team said.

katerina kolyva deans health6 002

katerina kolyva deans health6 002

Katerina Kolyva

Dr Katerina Kolyva, executive director of the Council of Deans of Health, aired concerns about the drop in overall placed applicants, but drew positives from the figures such as the increase in 18-year-old students.

She added: “The recent campaigns to promote healthcare careers are an important first step but we need to see sustained and targeted action to encourage more people to enter healthcare professions.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “There are currently 52,000 nurses in NHS training with more to come thanks to our 25% increase in training places, and in a historic pay deal backed by the RCN we increased the starting salary of a nurse by £2,000 – helping us to recruit our NHS nurses of the future.”



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Readers' comments (10)

  • It’s not rocket science, but charging them £9250 a year to train, plus their loans on top is putting people off. My daughter has just finished her first year, some weeks working 43 hours with no financial help. It’s going to get worse. So far 20 people have dropped out of 80, (she’s doing paediatric nursing) because they can’t afford to incur that amount of debt. Stop the fees and I’m sure the numbers will rise. As a nurse myself students are invaluable although they are supernumerary the wards couldn’t run properly without them.

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  • Everyone said this would happen but the government chose to ignore them - bring back financial support and we might see a rise in student numbers (though I wouldn’t recommend anyone go into the job the way things are going).

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  • When will we ever learn song I sang in my CND days, where have all the nurses gone? Long time passing, courage and Leadership, Humility alongside action from SOS Hancock . I can restrain myself from saying , we told you so
    However I am happy to use my voice to ask for urgent action maybe present and future CNO would care to join me?

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  • Stop Nursing Money start nursing the sick. Get back to Bursary that’s my messages to the GOV, NMC, RCN. The stupid policy is destroying the NHS. And deterring young people coming into the profession.
    Finally stop nurses doing jobs that are not directly related to nurses also stop nurses trying to be Doctors.
    Then we will improve.

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  • Present CEO is part of the problem, she should apologise to our profession.

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  • Oh dear who saw that coming? ~Sarcasm. Work until you drop, not getting paid and ending up with a loan. Another thing that would help is not everyone wanting to nurse wants to go to uni, it doesn't really have to have 100% degree trained nurses. in-service training, bring it back!

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  • I felt very put off applying this year as there is no funding support for student nurses the only thing we can get it a maintenance loan and a tuition fee loan, the maintenance loan doesn’t even cover our accomodation. We then are used as free labour and don’t even get minimum wage for placement despite having to travel. People have to work full time on top of doing a full time nursing degree it’s crazy!

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  • Maybe schoolchildren will be the next group in education to get a student loan. After all, a good primary and secondary education will make them employable! It's gone beyond a joke and into the realms of dystopian fiction. And all driven by a wrongheaded ideology that will be the ruination of this still wealthy (but declining) nation.

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  • they should push through current students for being qualified nurse with minimum or average pass marks and let the loads of people waiting to embark on nursing course get on with bursary.
    Whats the future .....were you .... work like a doctor....long hours ....stressed..... and then ....being a nurse ....with repayment of loan.

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  • The system is shocking, like others have said, students work full time on placements, their uni time is more crammed than a typical uni student. It’s really difficult to work more than a few hours per week.
    The starting or indeed the finishing wage does not justify the debt. Scotland is bringing in £10,000 bursary what is the government waiting for,we have already got a crises.

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