The RCN has warned that the NHS Long Term Plan won’t have a chance to succeed if the decline in student nurse applications isn’t reversed. The College is urging the Government to invest at least £1bn a year in nurse higher education in England to overturn the trend.
Figures released by UCAS show the number of people applying to study nursing in England has fallen by more than 13,000 since 2016, the last year students received the bursary.
With 40,000 nursing vacancies in England, the RCN has said the fall in student numbers further jeopardises the future supply of nurses and puts safe patient care at risk.
RCN Acting Chief Executive Dame Donna Kinnair said: “These figures show the scale of the workforce challenge ahead of us, and failure to act now risks patient care for a generation. The Long Term Plan deserves to succeed, but it cannot do so without the nurses to deliver it.
“With applicant numbers showing no sign of recovering since the removal of student funding, health care services will ultimately have even fewer nurses to treat us in our hospitals, homes, schools and clinics.”
The figures show that the number of mature nursing student applications from people over 25 in England has seen an even greater decline, falling by 41% since the bursary was removed.
This will mean the specialist areas worst hit by the wider staffing crisis, such as learning disability and mental health nursing, will continue to struggle to recruit the nurses they need.
Both these areas rely on students with significant life experience - with fewer mature students applying, the figures mean staffing levels could fall further.
Donna said: “Today’s figures show we all need to work together to address the workforce crisis, not only through investment in nurse education in England but through a workforce strategy that reflects the demands of the population in each country. This needs to be underpinned by legislation that guarantees the right number of nurses and nursing support staff to provide safe and effective care.”
The RCN’s Fund Our Future campaign calls on the Government to invest at least £1bn per year in nursing higher education to help stop the decline in student nurse numbers and recruit the nursing staff needed to keep patients safe.
The College has presented costed proposals to the Government such as a maintenance grant for all nursing students, or a combination of grants and forgivable loans, as well as practical support for tuition fees.
To secure the delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan, the RCN is calling for the Government to allocate the money as part of the Spending Review in spring.