Thousands of mature students are choosing not to study nursing, according to figures from UCAS.
For the semester starting this Autumn, the admissions service saw a drop of more than 25% in the number of over-25s applying for nursing courses. This coming academic year will be the first where nursing degrees are subject to tuition fees.
Six thousand fewer mature students applied by the end of March deadline compared to 2016 – a fall of 28% from 21,060 to 15,160 – while overall nursing degree applications had dropped by 23 per cent.
Research by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) found that 24,000 nursing posts across the UK are unfilled.
RCN chief executive Janet Davies said: ‘Ministers were warned of this worrying trend in January and they had two months before the final application deadline to sort it out. The government scrapped the bursaries students relied on and imposed fees. This leaves a serious concern that the government is storing up problems for the future.
‘Mature applicants bring much-valued life experience into nursing but are also particularly drawn to the parts of the NHS that find it hardest to recruit. Plans to transform mental health care rely on these nurses and the government must not allow services to be hampered by the fall.
‘The RCN consistently warned the Government that its decision to scrap bursaries and charge fees would result in decreased applications. Tomorrow’s nursing workforce, especially older applicants with young families, have been deterred at the very moment the NHS needs them most.’
The figures cast doubt on the supply of graduate nurses available to the NHS - in particular mental health and learning disability services, which tend to attract mature graduate nurses. In 2016, the Government announced that nursing degree students in England will pay fees from August 2017.
Applications to nursing courses from 18-year-olds fell by 10% in the last year. Overall, the number of applications in England fell by 10,670 (23%) across the same period, from 47,380 to 36,710.