Nursing student recruitment: ‘we’re going in the wrong direction’
NHS Long Term Workforce Plan accused of ‘falling off course’ as UCAS data show number of students accepted on to UK university nursing courses fell by 10.6%
The number of students accepted on to university nursing courses in the UK this year has dropped by 10.6%, fuelling further criticisms of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.
Fall in nursing student recruitment seen in all four UK nations
Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) end of cycle data for 2023, released on 7 December, show the number of nursing students who secured a university place fell from 29,440 in 2022 to 26,330 in 2023.
The fall was seen across all four UK nations. Wales saw a 16% drop, going from 1,315 acceptances in 2022 to 1,105 in 2023.
In England, 20,790 students accepted places on nursing courses in 2023, a drop of 10.5% from 23,240 in 2022. In the same time period Scotland numbers dropped by 10.9% from 3,950 to 3,520 and Northern Ireland saw the smallest decrease at 3.2%, falling from 940 to 910.
In contrast, there was a 2% rise in acceptances on midwifery courses.
Potential recruits put off by poor pay and high pressures
The RCN said the decline in students accepted on to nursing courses showed the government’s NHS Long Term Workforce Plan was ‘falling off course’ before it had started. The plan pledged to recruit up to 190,000 nurses by 2037 by increasing nurse training places and ramping up apprenticeships.
The college said low pay, high debt and extreme work pressures were to blame for people not wanting to join the profession.
RCN chief nurse Nicola Ranger said: ‘For the plan to succeed, we need to see significant increases in the numbers choosing to study nursing and we’re going in the wrong direction.
‘Nursing is one of the greatest professions anyone can join but students are being put off by low wages, high debt, and incredibly pressurised working environments. With tens of thousands of vacancies already in the NHS, we can’t afford more would-be nurses to choose other career paths.
The trend reflects those seen in earlier UCAS figures, which also showed a decline in the number of students taking up nursing courses in the UK during clearing.
RCN Scotland called on the Scottish Government to boost nursing students’ financial package to help them avoid falling into financial hardship.
RCN Scotland associate director Eileen McKenna said: ‘Today’s news is extremely worrying. Scotland doesn’t have the nursing workforce it needs today and the failure to fill university places means the future is looking even more challenging.’
The Department of Health and Social Care insisted there continues to be strong demand for healthcare courses, and added that the workforce plan would further boost nurse education and training.
A spokesperson said: ‘Healthcare courses were in high demand during the pandemic and while this has rebalanced, we are still seeing strong demand. Nursing continues to be a rewarding career with thousands of people choosing to study nursing every year.’
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