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Do not ‘squander’ record rise in nursing applicants, RCN tells ministers

Do not ‘squander’ record rise in nursing applicants, RCN tells ministers
In the Classroom Multi Ethnic Students Listening to a Lecturer and Writing in Notebooks. Smart Young People Study at the College. (In the Classroom Multi Ethnic Students Listening to a Lecturer and Writing in Notebooks. Smart Young People Study at the

Nursing staff leaving the profession because of exhaustion and burnout risks ‘squandering’ the record rise in applications to study nursing, the RCN has warned ministers.

A UCAS report, published today, found a rise in the number of nursing applications in England, with a record 28,815 putting a nursing course as their first choice. The Covid-19 pandemic played a ‘significant factor’ in their decision to apply, it found.

But Patricia Marquis, RCN director for England, highlighted a recent RCN poll that found 57% of nurses are thinking about or actively planning to quit their job. Top reasons given were because they felt undervalued, exhausted, and that they weren’t giving patients the level of care they would like.

She added: ‘The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the profession and the surge in applications to study nursing is very welcome…. Ministers now need to grip the situation [of nurses wanting to leave] or risk this wave of enthusiasm being squandered.’

Ms Marquis also pointed out that ‘record numbers of applications does not equate to record numbers of nurses entering the workforce’, with many not set to qualify until at least 2024.

More 18-year-olds choosing nursing

UCAS highlighted a rise in 18-year-olds choosing to study nursing. Since 2019, this has increased by 38%, to reach 7,105, and has led a 43% increase in places, to reach 6,510 students. Meanwhile, demand from mature applicants (aged 21 and over) has risen by 34% since 2019 to reach 17,415.

Sixty-nine per-cent of applicants said the Covid-19 pandemic inspired them to apply, while around one in ten said it was the most important factor in their decision.

The report also showed that applications to mental health nursing has grown by 30% since 2019. This comes amid staff shortages in the profession with data showing the workforce has shrunk, the latest data available, from 40,281 a decade earlier.

But men continue to apply to nursing courses at much lower numbers than women, who are nine times more likely to choose and be placed on nursing courses.

Covid pandemic ‘shone spotlight’ on nursing

Ruth May, chief nursing officer for NHS England, said the ‘difficult’ past few years ‘have a shone a spotlight on the value of our nursing profession’.

‘We are thrilled to see tens of thousands of applications – and a record number of acceptances – to study nursing and are delighted by the contribution of the close partnership between UCAS and our ‘We are the NHS’ recruitment campaign to these results,’ she added.

Sajid Javid, health and social care secretary, said: ‘I’m thrilled that a record number of 18-year-olds applied to study careers in nursing in 2021, with the extraordinary achievements of staff during the pandemic inspiring a new generation to become the future of our health and care services.

‘We are on track to recruit 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament and we are supporting all eligible nursing students with a training grant worth at least £5,000 a year. I urge anyone who wants a fulfilling career in the NHS to apply next year.’

Clare Marchant, UCAS chief executive, added: ‘As we approach next week’s deadline for applications for 2022 entry (26 January), we can expect that this wave of increased demand for nursing education and training opportunities will show no signs of waning.’