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Number of nursing student applications from England must rise faster, RCN says

New data show an increase of only 4% since last year – and a fall of 29% since 2016

New data show an increase of only 4% since last year – and a fall of 29% since 2016


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Huge increases in nursing student applications from England are needed, says the RCN, as official figures show only a 4% rise since last year.

There have been 36,810 applications from people living in England for entry to nursing degree programmes across the UK starting in 2019, compared with 35,260 applications for 2018 entry.

Post-bursary numbers

The figures, released today by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), also show a 29% fall in applications since 2016, when 51,840 students in England applied for UK nursing degrees.

In 2016, nursing students could use the NHS bursary to cover the cost of training as a nurse in England, but this was scrapped the following year by the government. The fall in applications since 2016 is in stark contrast to the government’s stated reason for changing student funding, which was to increase numbers. 

‘Papering over the cracks’

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair, said: ‘We need to see a much bigger increase if we are to have the number of nurses we need to sustain health and care services and give patients the care they deserve.

‘At the moment, with experienced nurses leaving the workforce due to the pressures generated by the shortage, at best we are papering over the cracks.’

Professor Kinnair said sustained investment was needed, including an urgent commitment to invest at least £1 billion a year in nursing higher education. She also called for the urgent delivery of the NHS People Plan for staff.

Government response

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson chose to focus on UCAS figures for the total number of applicants applying to study in England, including from the other UK nations, EU and non-EU countries.

They said: ‘The NHS runs on the dedication of nurses and midwives, so it is positive to see over 1,800 more applications than last year – meaning the number of applications still exceeds the places available.’

The spokesperson added that the department was taking ‘immediate steps’ to secure the staff needed for the future, including an increase in international recruitment and the creation of 5,000 additional university places in England.

The RCN student-led campaign #FundOurFuture is calling on the government in England to commit to funding for nursing education.


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