This has been described by Pat Cullen, Chief Executive of the RCN, as ‘deeply concerning’, and damaging to the prospects of the Government Workforce Plan.
This reported drop is a ‘clear result of the way the profession has been treated by those in power’ according to Ms Cullen who added: ‘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.’
The RCN have also expressed concerns that this news means that the NHS workforce plan will be harder for the Government to implement due to staffing shortages.
Ms Cullen said: ‘the NHS Workforce Plan for England set out an ambitious long-term growth in university places - today's news shows the task ahead will be even harder than expected, as fewer people are applying now.
‘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.’
But Liz Fenton, Deputy Chief Nurse at NHS England, struck a more optimistic note, expressing her faith the in the NHS workforce plan.
She said: ‘More than 44,000 prospective students in England are considering hugely rewarding careers in nursing and midwifery, with the total number of applicants significantly higher now than before the pandemic.
‘Record numbers of nurses and other healthcare staff will be trained as part of the first ever NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, which also sets out new routes for careers as well as measures to retain existing talent.’
Despite this, grave challenges lie ahead for the profession, Pat Cullen warned that unless ‘urgent action’ is taken ‘university places will go unfilled, vacant posts will remain empty and patient care will continue to be at risk.’
She concluded: ‘we are seeing a failure to invest in the workforce of today which is putting off the nurses of tomorrow.’