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Government ‘risking the health of the nation’ through nurse training, says RCN

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The number of applications for nursing places has fallen by 18% since last year

New UCAS figures show plummeting applications to nursing courses and a fall in the number of nursing students.

The number of applications to higher education nursing courses fell by 18% from 2016 levels, representing the ‘biggest fall in nursing applicants on record’, according to UCAS. There has also been a small drop in nursing students accepted to the course, with 28,620 students taking up places this year – a 0.9% drop on the previous year.

‘These figures show the future supply of nurses remains in peril – we have not seen the increase we need across the UK, despite government promises. In practice this will mean services already struggling to recruit staff will find it even harder. With a record number of people accessing services, it is patients who will pay the price for the Government's failure,’ said Lara Carmona, Associate Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

The latest figures show a drop in the total number of applicants for all nursing courses from 56,080 last year to 45,090 in 2017, with most of this decline coming from English applicants. This has been attributed to, in part, the removal of student bursaries in England.

Lara Carmona, said: ‘The reality is that the number of nursing students in England fell by 2.6 per cent this year. Ministers said the removal of the student bursary would mean 10,000 more nurses, and promised a 25 per cent increase in training places this year. This has not happened.

‘And the prospect of graduating thousands of pounds in debt appears to have deterred more mature students from applying, denying the profession their valuable life experience.’

The decision to scrap the student bursary came into effect in August and UCAS’s recent figures are the first indication of its impact. In October, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, also said he wanted to increase the number of training places by 25% to help mitigate against the effect of Brexit, but this also has not materialised into more nursing students.

Sara Gorton, UNISON head of health, said: ‘It’s disappointing that the number of student nursing applications is down 18 per cent. Unfortunately the government’s decision to scrap the bursary has clearly deterred people from pursuing a career in nursing.

‘The drop in older applications is particularly worrying. It suggests that the fear of heavy debts is putting off people who might be switching careers or have family to support. It’s really important that NHS staff reflect the communities they serve, and no one is prices out of becoming a nurse.’

Sarah Marchant, Chief Executive of UCAS, said: ‘The general decline in older applicants entering higher education, which we have noted as a trend, is highly pronounced in nursing subjects. Ucas is keen to investigate this further, working with partners in the sector.’

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