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Drop in nursing programme applications a 'real cause for concern'

14 Jul 2022

Ministers must prioritise attracting the next generation of people to the profession, starting with fair pay, insists the RCN.

Nursing student studying

New figures from UCAS show an 8% fall in applications to UK nursing programmes between 2021 and 2022. “This is further evidence that things are heading in the wrong direction,” said RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive Pat Cullen. “It’s a real cause for concern amid a workforce crisis, which is compromising safe patient care.” 

The figures show the biggest drop off in nursing programme applications is from mature students. However, there is stronger interest from 18-year-olds applying. 

“With the biggest drop in mature student applications, financial pressures are at play and the prospect of taking on more debt when inflation is soaring is a bridge too far,” added Pat.

“Stronger interest from 18-year-olds is a testament to nursing staff inspiring the next generation, but the profession is hugely diverse and relies on attracting people of all ages and all walks of life, often as a second career.

“Ministers everywhere need to prioritise attracting the next generation to address vacancies, starting with fair pay.”

The figures have been released amidst news of worrying proposed changes to nursing education in England. It’s been reported that NHS Employers have expressed concerns about UK government plans to scrap BTEC courses in health and social care, instead steering people towards T-levels. 

BTEC courses are an established route for people of all ages to go on to study nursing at degree level, whereas T-levels are currently only open to 16 to 19-year-olds and require a 45-day work placement, which the NHS and social care settings are unlikely to have the capacity to provide.  

RCN Deputy Director for Nursing Education, Research and Ethics, Dr Nicola Ashby, said: “This is yet another example of the government making it harder, not easier, to get into nursing in England.

“BTEC health and social care courses are a well-established route into nursing, with around a fifth of learners going on to do a nursing degree. They offer an opportunity for people from low-income backgrounds and mature students who might otherwise be denied it. 

"In addition, without government-funded tuition fees for nursing degrees, access to higher education will be further undermined. We support calls for an urgent re-think.” 

Page last updated - 12/12/2022