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Government ‘stumble at the first hurdle’ to deliver workforce promise as nursing acceptance rates fall

UCAS figures have revealed that the acceptance rate onto nursing courses has fallen by 13%, sparking criticism from the RCN that the government have failed to fulfil their student recruitment promise.

The government have ‘stumbled at the first hurdle’ to deliver on their recruitment promise, according to the RCN. The criticism comes after a 13% fall in the number of offers for nursing courses in the UK. The drop in places is calling into question the credibility of the Workforce Plan, with fears that ‘significant workforce expansion’ is needed

Dr Nichola Ashby, Deputy Director for Nursing, warns of the future consequences of this drop, she said: ‘fewer people are expected to take up nursing courses this year. These numbers are not just a sad story for today, but a story for years to come of how ministers baked future nursing shortages into the NHS.

‘If the NHS workforce plan is to succeed, the UK 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 in England.’

The Workforce Plan, revealed in June, states that nursing and midwifery intake needs to increase by 32,000 by 2031-32 in order to meet recruitment targets and keep staffing pressures at bay.

The declining acceptance rate follows a ‘deeply concerning’ drop in the number of students applying to study nursing. Last month, UCAS figures revealed a 17% drop from last year in the number of people applying in the UK.

According to Pat Cullen, Chief executive of the RCN, the fall in applications was a ‘clear result of the way the profession has been treated by those in power’ and warned that ‘the nursing workforce remains in crisis with record numbers forced to take time off due to stress and exhaustion and thousands leaving the profession every year.’

Nearly 27,000 nurses left the register in the 12 months leading up to March 2023, with 68% of leavers citing burnout and an unmanageable workload as their reason for leaving the profession.

Ms Cullen said: ‘Paying nurses fairly and providing access to financial support for tuition fees will not only help with the growing cost of living for those choosing to begin the path to the profession, but also make it more attractive to join.’