View All Articles
  • 12 September 2022
  • 4 min read

Does A Fall In Degree Applications Signal The End For The Current Nursing Staffing Model?

Subscribe To Advice
    • Richard Gill
    • Mat Martin
  • 0
  • 2656
The latest UCAS data shows applications to nursing courses fell by 8%, from 56,630 in 2021 to 52,150 this year.

The number of applications made to universities for nursing degree courses has dropped, with a notable decline in the number of mature students applying.

Applications from those aged 25 to 29 also decreased by just over a fifth, from 7,550 in 2021 to 5,930 in 2022, but those from 18-year-olds showed a small increase over the same period.

‘An 8 per cent drop in applications to nursing courses across the UK is a real cause for concern amid a workforce crisis, which is compromising safe patient care’ said RCN general secretary Pat Cullen.

‘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…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” she added.

If fewer Nurses are being trained, will current staff turnover and retention issues mean that eventually there will be a limit to what healthcare providers can realistically and safely offer in terms of services?

The decline in applications occurred alongside the proposed scrapping of BTEC courses in health and social care. Students would instead be steered towards T-levels, which are the new two-year courses roughly equivalent to 3 A Levels. The RCN has called this proposal ‘worrying’.

BTEC courses are a recognised preliminary step for students of all ages wishing to study nursing at degree level. T-levels on the other hand, are currently only open to 16 to 19-year-olds and necessitate a 45-day work placement, which both NHS and social care settings likely lack the capacity to provide.

RCN deputy director for nursing education, research and ethics, Dr Nicola Ashby, commented: ‘This is yet another example of the government making it harder, not easier, to get into nursing in England.

Do you think that BTECs should be maintained as a pathway into nursing, especially given the ongoing shortages of Nurses and a widening gap between the numbers joining and leaving the profession?

The increasing pressure on health and care services is discouraging new recruits, according to associate professor and head of the department of adult nursing at Birmingham City University Kevin Crimmons:

‘The perception of nursing as portrayed in the media over the past year is one of a profession buckling under the weight of the unsustainable pressures on the NHS,’ he said.

‘If the government is serious about addressing the alarming vacancy levels then they need to think about how they invest in the future workforce – whether that is paying tuition fees or providing a realistic bursary’ he explained.

Deputy Director for Nursing Education, Research and Ethics, Dr Nicola Ashby:

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

An investigation by the Health Foundation predicts a shortage of 38,000 hospital, community and primary care nurses next year, even if the government meets its target of hiring 50,000 extra nurses.

The worst-case scenario – where there is a fall in the number of students applying for nursing degrees, drop-out rates increase, international recruitment declines and more Nurses take early retirement – the figure could increase to 140,000, the report said.

RCN director for England Patricia Marquis said: ‘These projections show the apocalyptic impact that inactivity from ministers could have on the NHS in England – a potential shortfall of 140,000 nurses would be devastating for patient care.’

Do you think scrapping the old nursing bursary system was a mistake, and if such a system were to be reintroduced, would the numbers of Nurses being trained increase by a sufficient amount to offset staff losses elsewhere?

The latest report from the Nursing and Midwifery Council revealed the number of Nurses leaving the profession rose by 13% in the past year, meaning over 25,000 Nurses removed themselves from the register.

Chief executive of the NHS Confederation Matthew Taylor said ongoing shortages of Nurses were particularly concerning: ‘The new prime minister must face up to chronic staffing shortages, which are compromising patient care.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘There are over 9,600 more Nurses in the NHS compared to last year and we are… working to retain the existing workforce, boost training and education routes into nursing and use international recruitment opportunities to supply the NHS with a long-term sustainable nursing workforce.’

Do you think there is a case for NHS spending to be more tightly controlled by government, to ensure that money spent is prioritised for measures that will maintain and improve the clinical efficiency of the service?

Please let us know what you think in the comments, and Like the article if you found it interesting.


About the author

I believe people working in healthcare should be able to choose to enjoy work. That is, choose an employer who reflects their values and provides them with a sustainable career. This leads to better patient care, higher retention rates and happier working lives in this most important employment sector.

    • Richard Gill
    • Mat Martin
  • 0
  • 2656

Want to get involved in the discussion
Sign In Join

Get Hired

Use your stored CV to apply for jobs and get hired.

Get Hired