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Nurses call for emergency measures amid sharp decline in student applications

RCN has called the government to fund emergency measures to address the ‘rapidly deteriorating state of nurse recruitment’

The General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Pat Cullen, has called for ‘immediate and corrective action’ to support nurse recruitment. This call to action comes after latest figures from the university and colleges admissions service (UCAS) show a sharp drop in applicants to nursing courses for the next academic year.

UCAS figures show that there were just 24,680 nursing applicants to education providers in England this year, compared to 27,370 applicants in 2023 and 33,410 in 2022. This represents a 10% fall in the last year and a 26% fall in the last 2 years. This is despite the government’s Long Term Workforce Plan to employ 300,000 extra nurses, doctors and other health workers.

Cullen noted that this leaves the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan in danger of falling off course and poses ‘a direct threat to the sustainability of the NHS and patient safety.’ ‘The UK government must recognise the severity of this emergency and take immediate action to prevent further decline in nursing recruitment,’ said Cullen in a letter to the Health Secretary, Victoria Atkins.

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At next month’s budget, the RCN has urged the government to introduce emergency measures to address the ‘rapidly deteriorating state of nurse recruitment’. This includes removing student tuition fees to eliminate the financial burden and attract a wider pool of potential candidates; implementing a loan forgiveness scheme for NHS nurses to incentivise them to remain in the public health care system; and reintroducing universal living maintenance grants so students can focus on their studies without experiencing financial or emotional hardship.

Other leaders in the field have expressed similar concern and supported the call to action. With over 121,000 workforce vacancies, of which 42,000 are in nursing, Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, said trust leaders are likely to be ‘extremely worried’. ‘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,’ she said.

Similarly, Vanessa Wilson, chief executive of University Alliance, an association of 16 of the UK’s professional and technical universities, noted that the continued decline in applications for subjects like teaching, nursing and midwifery spelt trouble for the future of the 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,’ said Wilson.