Don't leave it to chance

Eight ways the Government can reverse the fall in nursing applications

A new RCN report has revealed the number of students starting nursing degree courses is likely to fall again this year unless the Government takes urgent action.

It showed the current number of applications for the next academic year has fallen by a third since the same point in 2016, and by 13% since last year.

This is despite Government attempts to boost the number of trainee nurses.

Changes to the funding of nurse training – including the removal of the student bursary – were announced in 2015 as a way to increase nurse numbers. Last year, ministers repeatedly announced extra nurse training places but the RCN’s analysis shows not enough students are applying to fill them.

In its report, the RCN says the Government must act now to encourage would-be nursing students to apply before the summer in order to boost the numbers joining England’s nursing workforce in 2021. Here are the eight key recommendations:

1. A long-term workforce strategy

We need a long-term plan in place to ensure there are enough staff in all parts of the health and social care service to meet rising demand.

2. Safe staffing legislation

UK-wide legislation will ensure the right nursing staff, with the right skills, in the right place at the right time. This includes clear lines of accountability and responsibility for workforce strategy, policy, planning and funding.

3. Data monitoring and collection

Statutory workforce data collection across the whole health care sector, including the latest available student application and student numbers data, would help to plan for the workforce of the future.

4. A high-profile recruitment campaign

Applications to nursing courses have fallen even further this year. We need a high profile national campaign to recruit more student nurses.

5. Targeted funding for potential students

Introduce incentives to enter nursing, such as universal or means tested grants. This would encourage people from all backgrounds to apply.

6. Reverse cuts to CPD

Put the money in place for meaningful continuing professional development (CPD). Budgets have been cut substantially – 60% over the past two years. They must be reinstated, to support retention and the implementation of new NMC training standards.

Group of nursing students being taught on placement

7. Invest in postgraduate pre-registration routes 

Further incentives, including financial support, would encourage graduates of other subjects and those already working in the NHS to convert to nursing in post-graduate programmes.

8. Fully funded nursing degree apprenticeships

If the Government wants apprenticeships to be a success, it needs to ensure they are taken up by NHS employers. Clarity is needed on how the apprenticeship levy can be used, and how employers might pay for costs such as salaries and backfill.

Find out more

Read powerful testimonials from frontline nursing staff about how the 40,000 staff shortfall affects their day-to-day care of patients in the RCN publication 'Left to Chance'. 

Words by Tom Metcalf