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Nearly a quarter of student nurses quit before graduation

Over four thousand students quit or suspended their studies last year

Mark Gould

Monday, 03 September 2018

Nearly a quarter of student nurses are dropping out of their degree courses before graduation, according to figures that will do nothing to ease the serious staff shortages across the NHS.

Of 16,544 UK nursing students at 55 universities who began three-year degrees that were due to finish last year, 4,027 left their courses early or suspended their studies according to the Nursing Standard, which obtained the student data jointly with the Health Foundation.

The Nursing Standard asked 74 universities for start and completion data for students in total. The 55 responses were analysed by the Health Foundation.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned that students were being put off by bad experiences on clinical placements, as well as by financial difficulties and academic pressures. The NHS has some 40,000 vacant nursing posts according to the RCN.

Attempts to address the issue over the past 10 years appear to have failed. The RCN said that its 2006 investigation found the attrition rate was 24.8%; today it was still 24%.

Ben Gershlick, senior economics analyst at the Health Foundation, said: “While the attrition rate has remained fairly constant over the last decade its impact is becoming more severe bearing in mind the overall shortage of nurses, vacancies in nursing posts and rising demand pressures on the NHS. The need for nurses trained in the UK has also increased as we have seen a recent fall in the inflow of nurses coming from abroad.”

NHS Digital figures published in July showed that NHS care providers, mainly hospital trusts, tried to recruit 69,408 nurses and midwives in the six months between October 2017 and March this year.

In May, NHS Improvement, the health service’s financial regulator, said the health service in England was operating short of 35,794 nurses – though the lack of key staff was not putting patient safety at risk because 95% of rota gaps were filled by temporary workers. The RCN has disputed the claim, however.

James Buchan, professor at the health and sciences faculty, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, who is an expert on the nursing workforce, said: “Student nurse attrition has been for many years identified as a major problem for the UK, both in terms of the negative impact on individuals who leave programmes early, and also for the system at large, given nursing shortages are so prominent and increasing.”

Last year, applications by students in England to nursing and midwifery courses at British universities fell by 23% after the government abolished NHS bursaries, replacing those with tuition fees and a loans system.

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