Results day: numbers accepted onto UK nursing courses down by 13%

NHS workforce plan ‘stumbles at first hurdle’ as nursing degree student numbers fall in every country, prompting calls for a rethink on tuition fees

NHS workforce plan ‘stumbles at first hurdle’ as nursing degree student numbers fall in every country, prompting calls for a rethink on tuition fees

Students at Ark Acton Academy in London receive their A-level results Picture: Alamy

The number of students accepted onto university nursing courses in the UK has dropped by 13%, sparking renewed calls to scrap tuition fees for those who go on to work in the NHS.

Workforce plan ‘stumbles at first hurdle’ as nursing student numbers fall

As thousands of young people across the country opened their A-level and T-level results today, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) published data showing that 18,300 people have been accepted onto nursing degree courses across the UK, down from 21,140 in 2022.

The fall in nursing student acceptances was seen across all four countries in the UK. In Scotland, 2,850 students have been awarded places on nursing courses, down 17% on the 3,440 accepted this time last year. In England numbers were down 13% from 16,120 to 14,010.

In Wales, numbers dropped 11% since 2022, from 900 to 800, and in Northern Ireland there was a 5% fall to 640 places, down from 680.

Reacting to the figures, the RCN said it was saddened by the figures and that the UK government was ‘stumbling at the first hurdle' to deliver its NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.

Students accepted onto UK nursing degree courses
2022 2023 % change
England 16,120 14,010 -13%
Scotland 3,440 2,850 -17%
Wales 900 800 -11%
Northern Ireland 680 640 -5%
UK overall 21,140 18,300 -13%

Calls for government to ‘reduce the burden of debt’ for future NHS workforce

RCN deputy director for nursing – education, research and ethics Nichola Ashby said: ‘These numbers are not just a sad story for today, but a story for years to come of how the ministers baked future nursing shortages into the NHS.

‘If the NHS workforce plan is to succeed, the government must start providing details on how the plan will begin to deliver the students the NHS needs to see for the future workforce. It must fund more university places for nursing students and remove the burden of student debt and tuition fees from prospective nurses.’

Across all courses, 414,940 applicants (including all ages and nationalities) gained a place at a UK university or college today before the clearing process began, meaning those on nursing degree courses make up just 4.4% of this overall student population.

Of the 18,300 people due to start nursing courses in September, the largest numbers are in the youngest and oldest age group categories, with 4,930 aged 17-18 and 4,590 aged 35 or older.

The number of 17 and 18 year olds accepted is down 12% from last year's figure. This is the second consecutive year that acceptances in this age group have fallen.

Commitment to wipe tuition fees would boost recruitment, says nurse educator

Newman University head of adult nursing Kevin Crimmons echoed the RCN's comment that waiving tuition fees for those who commit to working in the NHS would attract more would-be students into nursing.

He told Nursing Standard: ‘The government could incentivise nursing places by ‘wiping’ tuition fees from student loans after graduates have passed a milestone working in the NHS, for example at three or five years’ service. This would no doubt help with retention too.’

Deputy chief nursing officer for England Duncan Burton congratulated the students accepted onto nursing courses and encouraged those who are still deciding to consider a career in the NHS.

‘If you’ve got your exam results today and are considering your options, please consider one of the various routes to become a nurse, midwife or one of the many other NHS roles on offer,’ he said.

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