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Nurse leaders blame government for drop in nursing degree applicants

Applications in England have fallen 20% compared with this time last year

Caroline White

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Nurse leaders have blamed the government for the sharp fall in applications to nursing, midwifery, and allied health degrees, revealed by The Times.

On Saturday, the newspaper reported that applications for these degrees had fallen by a fifth compared with this time last year. And the drop in the number of these applicants was twice that of other courses, it said.

The figures, which draw on survey data from higher education body Universities UK, show that the shortfalls in applications are worst in London and the south east, and among mature candidates.

Although the data are not made publicly available, a Universities UK spokesperson confirmed they were accurate, although he emphasised that they came with a “health warning.”

He told OnMedica: “They are real time application data, and just a snapshot, and figures could recover within a week.”

But he added that vice chancellors had wanted to flag up that the number of applicants was down on last year’s figures.

Janet Davies, RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary, said that nurse leaders had forecast this outcome when the government ditched the NHS bursary scheme and replaced it with student loans.

“We have consistently raised concerns to the government that their decision to charge fees to nursing students in England and replace NHS bursaries with student loans would result in this drop.

“Despite 100 years’ of nursing knowledge and expertise, our advice fell on deaf ears. The government went ahead in gambling on the future of the nursing workforce.”

Fewer students in 2017 means fewer nurses in 2020, she added. “We are already in the midst of a workforce crisis with not enough nurses being trained domestically and an overreliance on overseas recruitment.

“This is further exacerbated by Brexit and the uncertainty around the right for EU nurses to remain in the UK. The drop in intake for 2020 graduation combined with Brexit expected to take place in 2019 could result in a perfect storm for the nursing workforce,” she suggested.

The RCN is calling on the government to reinstate student bursaries, she said.

Jon Skewes, director for policy at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said the College had also warned the government about the impact removing the NHS bursary would have. 

“The government claimed that the removal of the bursary would create more than 10,000 new training places for midwives, nurses and other allied health students. The RCM, along with other trade unions, warned that this was a reckless decision that would affect the midwifery shortage further, and unfortunately the research now confirms our worst fears."

Vice-chancellors are planning a campaign with health bodies to encourage more people to train as nurses.

The campaign is likely to run well beyond the normal deadline for university course applications to encourage candidates to make late submissions or apply through clearing in the summer.

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