Senior nurses in England are concerned about certain regions of the country where universities are “really struggling” to attract enough applicants to nurse training, including parts of London that are “on the edge”.
One of England’s deputy chief nursing officers, Hilary Garratt, said her team at NHS England was “concerned about the fall in applications in 2017” and the “early indications of a further reduction in 2018”.
“There are areas in London where some of the courses are really on the edge”
Official figures released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) this week showed a 13% decline in the number of applicants in England applying for pre-registration nursing courses starting from the autumn.
This is on top of a 23% reduction in applicants in 2017, meaning applicants are now down by around a third since the government in England opted to end free education for student nurses and instead switch to a loans system.
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“There are some areas of the country that are really struggling more than others. And also by speciality – particularly mental health and learning disability,” said the deputy CNO.
“There are areas in London where some of the courses are really on the edge,” noted Ms Garratt, who was speaking yesterday at a nursing conference at the University of Salford.
“We always said at the beginning that this is uncharted territory. This is something we need to keep an eye on”
She later told Nursing Times that anecdotal evidence had suggested parts of London were struggling and that it was important to analyse the UCAS data further to understand the problems.
“The concern is we don’t have enough numbers to fill the places,” she said. She highlighted that it was important to “keep an eye” on applicants to all four fields of nursing – adult, children’s, mental health, and learning disability nursing – and also the spread of those applicants across the country.
Further monitoring would help to target any additional support needed to recruit more student nurses, she added.
“We always said at the beginning that this is uncharted territory. This is something we need to keep an eye on,” said Ms Garratt, regarding the controversial replacing of bursaries with loans from 1 August 2017.
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When asked what action was being taken to tackle the drop in applicants, she highlighted that workforce body Health Education England was planning a national recruitment campaign to attract more people into nursing.
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In addition, NHS England was leading a project looking at perceptions of nursing - an issue that may be playing a part in the drop in the number of applicants, she said.
The project has attracted 11,000 responses so far and findings are expected to be presented at the chief nursing officer for England’s summit in March.
Ms Garratt was speaking on Tuesday at the Future of nursing conference, where delegates discussed how nursing profession will meet demands of Brexit, an ageing population and a dwindling workforce.