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Calls for emergency measures after decline in student nurse applications

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Calls for emergency measures after decline in student nurse applications

Leading nurses have urged the Government to introduce a package of measures to support recruitment in the profession.

It comes after new Ucas figures showed a decline in applications to nursing courses this year.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called on the Government to use its Budget next month to fund emergency measures in a bid to bolster applications, such as removing student loans for student nurses.

In England, there were 24,680 nursing applicants to higher education providers in January 2024, down from 27,370 applicants 12 months earlier and 33,410 in 2022.

This represents a fall of 9.8% in a year or 26.1% over two years.

In the UK overall, the number of nursing applicants – of all ages and domiciles – fell by 7.4% to 31,100.

Applications to nursing have decreased across all specialisms, but particularly adult nursing and mental health nursing – and the fall in demand is being driven by a reduction in the number of UK mature applicants to courses, Ucas said.

Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive of the RCN, expressed her “deep concern about the rapidly deteriorating state of nurse recruitment” in a letter to Health Secretary Victoria Atkins.

The Government unveiled the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan last year, hailing it as a “once in a generation” opportunity to employ 300,000 extra nurses, doctors and other health workers.

However, Ms Cullen wrote that a “failure to address these critical issues” will make the ambitions laid out in the plan “unattainable” and could leave “the health care system dangerously understaffed and unable to meet the growing demands of patients”.

She added: “These latest figures expose a widening gap between the aspirations of the plan and the level of political effort required to make them a reality. This needs immediate intervention and corrective action to protect patients now and in the future.

“A decline in applicants risks causing a cascading effect, with fewer students accepted onto nursing courses leading to diminished course cohorts and eventually lower numbers graduating and becoming registered nurses.

“The UK government must recognise the severity of this emergency and take immediate action to prevent further decline in nursing recruitment.

“We believe the current situation poses a direct threat to the sustainability of the NHS and patient safety, considering the existing 10.3% vacancy rate in nursing positions within the NHS in England.”

As well as a loan forgiveness scheme, the RCN is also calling on the Government to fund nursing students’ tuition fees and reintroduce universal living maintenance grants.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, said trust leaders are likely to be “extremely worried” by the decline in nursing applications “especially as the NHS is grappling with over 121,000 workforce vacancies, of which 42,000 are in nursing”.

She added: “Operational pressures and challenges including wider unresolved industrial disputes impact retention and morale, so there is concern that staffing gaps could widen further.

“The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan is a welcome blueprint to shore up staff numbers, but without adequate measures to ensure the NHS remains attractive to both future and existing staff, it risks amounting to nothing more than a pipedream.

“We look forward to the Government providing detail on how it will fund and implement the plan so that the NHS can plan effectively, ensuring it has the right resources in place to meet evolving healthcare needs.”

Vanessa Wilson, chief executive of University Alliance, said: “The continued decline in applications for subjects like teaching, nursing and midwifery spell trouble for the future of our public sector.

“A concerted effort to reverse these trends will be required from Government, the NHS and universities if we are to meet the ambitions set out in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.

Published: by Radio NewsHub

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