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12% fall in England’s nurse training applications in past year

Nurse leaders say removal of student bursary has been 'disaster'

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 13 July 2018

Nursing leaders say the removal of the NHS student bursary two years ago has been a “disaster” with 12% fewer applications for nurse training places in the past year in England.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said applications to nursing degree courses had plummeted by around a third in England since the government removed the NHS student bursary and a new plan was needed to reverse the trend.

According to new figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), there were 48,170 applicants to UK nursing courses – 9% fewer than this time last year.

Among these numbers, 35,260 people from England applied to study nursing at university next year, compared with 40,060 who applied by the same point in 2017 – a 12% drop.

The numbers applying to begin training in September 2018 mean there has been a total decline of 16,580 (32% less) since March 2016, the last year students received financial support through the bursary, the college said.

The fall in mature student numbers has been even more extreme, with a 16% drop by the June application deadline compared to the same point last year, and a total decline of 40% since June 2016.

The RCN pointed to concerns raised last month by the independent NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) which warned a workforce gap could persist until 2027 unless immediate action was taken.

In its official report* to the government last month, the PRB told ministers the removal of the nursing bursary had resulted in a marked drop in applications.

The report cited evidence presented by NHS Employers, which said that September 2017 was the first intake of university nursing students who would not receive a bursary from the government to cover their academic costs.

The full impact of this policy was yet to be seen but indicative figures from UCAS showed that by the 15 January deadline for the 2017 cycle, there were 23% fewer applicants to nursing from England, and 25% fewer applicants from the EU (excluding the UK) compared to the same time the previous year.

Janet Davies, RCN chief executive, said: “Failing to recruit more nurses puts patients at risk, and with 40,000 nurse vacancies in England alone, we cannot sit back and watch applications fall year on year. It is clear now that removing the bursary has been a disaster. It is time ministers looked again at this policy, before patients suffer the consequences.

“On top of the serious decline in overall nursing applications, the 40% drop in mature students applying to study nursing is a particular concern.”

NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) launched a £8m recruitment campaign for nurses earlier this month.

A DHSC spokesman said the number of nursing student applicants continued to exceed the number of places available and added: “The NHS runs on the dedication and commitment of our wonderful nurses, who work tirelessly to provide the highest quality of care for their patients.

“There are currently 52,000 nurses in training to work in our NHS, with more to come thanks to our historic 25% increase in training places which will ensure we have the nurses we need for the future.”


*Thirty-First Report 2018. A report prepared by the NHS Pay Review Body, June 2018.

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