The comments were made as new figures from the university admissions service, Ucas, showed a drop of more than a quarter in the number of over-25s applying to begin courses.
The RCN has consistently warned the Government that its decision to scrap bursaries and charge fees would result in a decreased number of applications. Nursing degree students in England will pay fees from August 2017.
Janet Davies, RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary, 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, such as mental health and learning disability services.
“Plans to transform mental health care rely on these nurses and the Government must not allow services to be hampered by the fall,” added Janet.
Six thousand fewer mature students applied by the end of March deadline compared to 2016. Overall nursing degree applications have dropped by 23 per cent.