The number of students accepted onto undergraduate nursing programmes across the UK is down 10.5% in a year, latest data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has shown.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the latest decline reflected how students were ‘being put off by low wages, high debt and incredibly pressurised working environments’.
UCAS has today published its ‘end of cycle’ undergraduate programmes data for 2023. It follows previous figures which revealed a 16% decline in applications to study nursing this year.
Today’s data shows 26,330 students were accepted onto undergraduate nursing programmes in the UK – down from 29,440 (-10.5%) on last year.
Numbers have been on the decline again since 2021, following increased interest in healthcare programmes during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The number of students accepted onto nursing courses in England was also down 10.5% (20,790) and Wales saw a drop of 16%.
Meanwhile, there was also an 11% decline in students accepted onto courses in Scotland and a 3% fall in Northern Ireland.
RCN deputy chief nurse Dr Nichola Ashby warned nursing numbers were ‘going in the wrong direction’.
And she suggested that the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan – which commits to increasing the number of nurse training places in England by 80% by 2031 – was ‘falling off course before it’s even begun’.
‘For the plan to succeed, we need to see significant increases in the numbers choosing to study nursing and we’re going in the wrong direction,’ added Dr Ashby.
‘Nursing is one of the greatest professions anyone can join but students are being put off by low wages, high debt, and incredibly pressurised working environments.’
Amid significant vacancies across the health service, she added that ‘we can’t afford more would-be nurses to choose other career paths’.
Eileen Mckenna, RCN Scotland associate director, said it was ‘extremely worrying’ that the 11% decline in acceptances in Scotland would lead to further training places unfilled in the country.
‘Scotland doesn’t have the nursing workforce it needs today and the failure to fill university places means the future is looking even more challenging,’ she said.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Healthcare courses were in high demand during the pandemic and while this has rebalanced, we are still seeing strong demand.
‘Nursing continues to be a rewarding career with thousands of people choosing to study nursing every year.’
They reiterated that its long-term NHS workforce plan ‘will further boost education and training’.