Emergency measures needed to boost nurse recruitment

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has urged the government to commit to a series of emergency measures in the forthcoming budget after new UCAS figures revealed a steep drop in nursing applicants for the next academic year.

The figures show that there were only 24,680 applications for nursing courses in England this year – this compares to 27,370 last year and 33,410 in 2022.

This coincides with a similar drop in the number of mature UK students applying for nursing degrees, with figures showing a drop from 18,980 in 2021 to 11,190 this year.

NHS Providers’ deputy chief executive, Saffron Cordery, said trust leaders will be “extremely worried” by the statistics, especially given the 120,000 plus workforce gap – 42,000 of which are in nursing.

"The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan is a welcome blueprint to shore up staff numbers, but without adequate measures to ensure the NHS remains attractive to both future and existing staff, it risks amounting to nothing more than a pipedream,” said Cordery.

In a letter to the health secretary, Victoria Atkins, the RCN’s chief executive, Pat Cullen, said: “The UK government must recognise the severity of this emergency and take immediate action to prevent further decline in nursing recruitment.”

She added: “We believe the current situation poses a direct threat to the sustainability of the NHS and patient safety, considering the existing 10.3% vacancy rate in nursing positions within the NHS in England.”

At next month’s budget, the RCN has called for the government to introduce new measures to turn the tide.

This includes removing student tuition fees for future nurses, implementing a loan forgiveness scheme for current nurses, and reintroducing universal living maintenance grants.

Cullen concluded her address to the health secretary: “We urge you to tackle this issue head on and work with the RCN and other stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan that effectively addresses the nursing recruitment crisis.”

Image credit: iStock

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