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New government must take action to prevent NHS Long Term Workforce Plan failure

RCN survey shows half of nursing students considering quitting.

Nursing students
We’re demanding urgent intervention from the next government to stop the NHS England Long Term Workforce Plan falling further off track.   

A year on from the plan's publication, our survey of nursing students in England shows nearly half could quit before they complete their courses. There’s also been a collapse in the numbers taking up nursing degree apprenticeships, falling 20% in the last 2 academic years.   

In our general election manifesto, we’re calling for the introduction of universal maintenance support for nursing students and for the return of government-funded nursing degrees.  

Students have told us that increasing financial support so it reflects the cost of living, reviewing starting salaries for new graduates and improving academic support are the best ways to prevent them quitting. They have also asked for measures to reduce interest on student loans.   

RCN Acting General Secretary and Chief Executive Professor Nicola Ranger said: “Government-funded nurse education, proper maintenance support and loan forgiveness for those working in the NHS would be money well spent. Building a nursing workforce fit for the future is the best investment a government can make, benefiting our vital services and wider society.”  

In 2017, the UK government removed financial support for nursing students by ending the student bursary and introducing tuition fees of more than £9,000 per year. At the time, we warned of the impact this would have on the number of applicants to study nursing and the extent to which it would worsen staff shortages.  

In our survey, students cited financial difficulties, a lack of teaching and supervision and mental health issues as the primary reasons for wanting to quit.  

The NHS England Long Term Workforce Plan aims to grow the nursing workforce from around 350,000 nurses to around 550,000 by 2036/37. However, in the last 4 years, the number of people starting nursing courses has declined at an average rate of 6.7%. 

Nicola added: “For the Long Term Workforce Plan to get back on track, we need urgent action. The retention and recruitment of nursing staff will be key to driving down NHS waiting times and getting health and care services back on their feet.”