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Claims of surge in male nursing applicants ‘ignore overall decline’

NHS England credits recruitment campaign, but others say numbers are ‘not even close to 2016’

NHS England credits recruitment campaign, but others say numbers are ‘not even close to 2016’


Picture: iStock

Claims of a ‘record-breaking’ number of nursing degree applications from male school leavers mask plummeting figures overall, a leading nurse academic warns.

NHS England says there were 70 more applicants in the 18-year-old male group for courses starting in 2019, compared with 2018, rising to a total of 440. It credits its recruitment campaign for this rise, which equates to 19%.

Applications from men in all other age groups were up by 140 this year, and NHS England has praised the figures as evidence that attitudes towards a nursing career are changing.

Dramatic drop overall

Yet the assertion does not take into account the dramatic fall in the total number of male applicants since 2016, the last year nursing students in England were able to access the NHS bursary.

University of Southampton professor of nursing workforce policy Jane Ball said last year was ‘not a wonderful reference point’.

‘Three years ago, there were 1,630 more applications from men,’ Dr Ball said. ‘What we have seen since the loss of the bursary in 2017 is a big decline in the number of men applying to nursing.’

In the three years to 2019, male applicant numbers dropped 38% to 2,650.


Jane Ball says 2018 is ‘not a good
reference point’ for applicant numbers.
Picture: Chris Balcombe

There has also been a huge drop in nursing degree applications across genders and age groups – from 43,800 three years ago to 30,650 for courses starting in 2019.

‘If we are trying to change the profile of nursing, we are further away from doing that this year,’ said Dr Ball.

No change on diversity  

She added that it was ‘a real shame’ that in every other age group beyond 18 there were fewer male applicants than in 2016, and in every age group there were fewer female applicants.

‘Mature students are really valuable because they have all sorts of life skills,’ she said. ‘It is concerning the diversity of applicants in terms of age and background is not increasing and overall we are seeing a reduction in men and women.’

London South Bank University chair of workforce modelling Alison Leary said any increase in applications was good, but the figures were only meaningful if applicants turned into students and registered nurses.

‘We need to address the structural issues like working conditions and workload that make nursing seem unappealing for both men and women.’

Significant, targeted investment needed

RCN associate director of nursing Stephanie Aiken added: 'The real story is how application numbers aren’t even close to the level since the removal of student funding in 2016.

'While every application matters, and we must promote the attractiveness of a nursing career in our society, addressing the workforce crisis in England requires significant, targeted investment in nurse higher education.

NHS England director of nursing for transformation Paul Vaughan said: ‘It’s encouraging to see such an uptake in nursing applications since the launch of the campaign – especially among men.'

The We Are The NHS recruitment campaign began last July and featured TV and radio advertising, posters and social media, primarily targeting the 14-18-year-old age group.


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