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RCN raises alarm after drop in the number of new nursing students

The Royal College of Nursing has accused the Government of 'stumbling at the first hurdle' of its NHS Workforce Plan after a fall in the number of new nursing students.

UCAS clearing data released this week revealed a 12% decrease in university acceptance rates onto nursing courses across England. In response to the figures, RCN’s Deputy Director for Nursing, Dr Nichola Ashby warned of the consequences for the NHS’s staffing crisis. ‘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.’

According to the Health Foundation, the Government's NHS Workforce Plan in England will require an increased intake of around 32,000 student nurses by 2031-32 for nursing and midwifery needs to be met. Pushing the number of student nurses from 40,400 this year to an aimed 72,400 by the end of the decade. Concerns were raised by the RCN earlier this year after UCAS also revealed that the overall number of applicants to nursing courses had dropped.

‘During the pandemic, people were drawn to apply to study nursing by the professionalism that was showcased. These figures show that has been reversed entirely. Ultimately, it is patient care that will continue to suffer,’ said RCN chief executive Pat Cullen at the time.

Scotland has also seen a fall in intake by 17% from last year. While there may still be a few weeks before UCAS clearing closes, the statistics are still of great concern to the RCN. Eileen Mckenna, RCN Scotland Associate Director, noted the drop was particularly worrying ‘amid the stubbornly high registered nurse vacancy rates.'

Dr. Ashby has argued that the Government needs to remove the burden of student debt and tuition fees off prospective nurses if they wish to see any increase in intake. ‘Being a nurse is one of the greatest careers that any prospective students can choose. During a cost-of-living crisis, they are being put off by the prospect of debt, low salaries and poor working conditions.’