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Nursing ‘in jeopardy’ after 23% fall in university applications

Nurses have expressed their fears after figures revealed a worrying drop in the number of students applying to start health and social care courses in the next academic year.

Data published by the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) revealed a worrying 23% drop in applicants from England making at least one choice involving nursing and midwifery compared to last year, amidst an overall 5% decrease in applications across all subjects.

UCAS noted 33,810 applicants to nursing courses in January this year compared to 43,800 the year before, marking a loss of almost 10,000 potential future nursing staff.

The Royal College of Nursing has urged the government to reverse its decision last year to begin charging fees to nursing students, warning that the change looks to have put the future of nursing “in jeopardy”.

“We warned the government the removal of student funding would see a sharp drop in nursing applications,” said Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary at the RCN. “These figures confirm our worst fears.

“The nursing workforce is in crisis and if fewer nurses graduate in 2020, it will exacerbate what is already an unsustainable situation.”

The outlook for nursing currently looks bleak as fewer EU nurses look to work in the UK following last year’s EU Referendum and almost half of nurses become eligible for retirement by 2020, despite the UK currently having 24,000 nursing vacancies.

The RCN stressed that the replacement of NHS bursaries with standard student loans must be reversed in view of these pressures, calling upon the government to encourage more applicants by “investing in student education”.

However, the Council of Deans of Health, which represents university faculties for nursing and midwifery, were more optimistic about the change, saying that fewer applications are to be expected at first as a result of the change but this should pick up in future years.

“Our members report receiving a high number of good quality applications for most courses and they will continue to recruit through to the summer,” said Professor Dame Jessica Corner, chair of the Council of Deans of Health. “Where courses have historically had a large number of applicants, fewer applicants might well not affect eventual student numbers.”

Prof Dame Corner added that the change also comes in the context of lower applications all-round to higher education and the introduction of alternative routes into careers in healthcare, such as the new nursing associate role and registered nurse apprenticeship programmes.

A Health Education England spokesperson echoed Prof Dame Corner’s optimism, saying that despite the drop, universities had still received 14,000 more applications to nursing and midwifery courses than the number of places offered last year.

“[This] suggests that there are sufficient numbers of people applying for places on healthcare courses to ensure that there will be enough students to meet NHS requirements for the future,” the spokesperson said.

However, Professor Steve West, chair of Universities UK’s Health Education and Research Policy Network, said that the government must continue to endorse and promote the degree route into health and social care professions despite the withdrawal of funding.

“These courses lead into critically important roles in our future health and care services,” Prof West said. “They also provide an amazing range of professional careers, qualifications that are recognised all over the world and great opportunities for personal fulfilment.”

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MALCOLM DAW ARRC RGN   06/02/2017 at 12:53

Drastic action must now be taken. Nurse training should be taken out of universities and revert back to each training hospital with a school of nursing.The students would achieve a better on the job training, experience across the whole spectrum and would come out as staff nurses not inexperienced uni students. It would also allow for more students on the wards/ theatres and would give us all a better trained nurse at the end.

Debo   15/02/2017 at 17:04

fully agree with Malcolm! I completed my SRN & worked for 30 years ... no way would I do my training under the training plan now.

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