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Students shun a career in medicine, figures show

Medical and nursing applicant numbers plummet

Jo Carlowe

Thursday, 02 February 2017

The latest figures from the universities admissions service reveals a drop in the numbers of both medical and nursing applicants, leading doctor and nurse leaders to warn of an impending workforce crisis. 

UCAS’s data reveals there were 83,540 applicants to study medicine in 2017, a fall of 3,110 (4%) on the previous year. Meanwhile, the number of nursing applicants in England has fallen by 23% since 2016. Some 43,800 applications were made in England in January 2016 and 33,810 in January 2017, meaning 9,990 fewer people have chosen to study nursing compared to last year.

The British Medical Association today warned the pressures on the NHS is making medicine a less desirable career choice. And the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) blames the replacement of NHS bursaries with student loans for the fall in nursing applicants. 

Harrison Carter, BMA medical students committee co-chair, said: “The government must question why, as these figures clearly show, medicine is becoming a less desirable career choice.

“It’s likely that the Government’s handling of the junior doctor contract negotiations, and the continuing financial pressures on the NHS, are deterring many from pursuing medical careers.

“At a time when our health service is completely overstretched and facing huge staff shortages, it is vital that the government addresses the underlying issues that are affecting the NHS’s ability to recruit and retain staff, and provide them with attractive and flexible careers, in order to provide the best possible care for patients.”

The RCN similarly warned of future workforce problems. 

Janet Davies, RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary, said: “We warned the Government the removal of student funding would see a sharp drop in nursing applications. 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.”

She added: “The outlook is bleak – fewer EU nurses are coming to work in the UK following the Brexit vote, and by 2020 nearly half the workforce will be eligible for retirement.

“With 24,000 nursing vacancies in the UK, the Government needs to take immediate action to encourage more applicants by reinstating student funding and investing in student education – the future of nursing, and the NHS, is in jeopardy.”

Commenting, a Department of Health spokesperson said: "Student contributions to university costs have changed on three previous occasions, and every time there has been an immediate dip in application rates followed by a steady rise — we are confident nursing courses will follow a similar trend and are certain we will have all the student nurses the NHS needs by September.”

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