Applications to nursing undergraduate courses in England have fallen by another 5,000, according to latest figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
Analysis of data up until the June 2018 application deadline has revealed that 35,260 applications were made to nursing courses in England, down from the 40,060 in June 2017.
Northern Ireland has also seen a fall of 190 applicants, but Scotland and Wales have both seen increases. Scotland had 130 more applicants to nursing courses than at the same time in June 2017, while Wales had an extra 40 people.
Applications from the EU have continued to decline, with 110 fewer EU applicants this year compared to June 2017. But this has been offset slightly with 80 more applicants from non-EU countries, compared to June 2017.
The steepest falls for applicants in England were seen in mature students. Applicants aged 25-29 fell by 19%, 30-34 year olds by 15%, and 35 and over by 14%. Overall, since June 2016 – the last year where students could receive an NHS undergraduate bursary – mature student applications have fallen by 40%.
The Royal College of Nursing has claimed that the figures demonstrate that the bursary removal has been a ‘disaster’.
Chief executive of the RCN Janet Davies said: ‘Failing to recruit more nurses puts patients at risk, and with 40,000 nurse vacancies in England alone, we cannot sit back and watch applications fall year on year. It is clear now that removing the bursary has been a disaster. It is time Ministers looked again at this policy, before patients suffer the consequences.
‘On top of the serious decline in overall nursing applications, the 40% drop in mature students applying to study nursing is a particular concern. These students represent a vital part of the nursing workforce, particularly in mental health and learning disabilities. It is these areas that benefit most from the life experience mature students bring, and where the shortage of nurses is most keenly felt.
‘We urgently need financial incentives to attract more students into the profession, and nursing students must be encouraged and supported.’
The figures come just a week after NHS England launched a nationwide campaign to recruit more nurses, including efforts to double the number of nurses returning to practice.
It also follows UCAS reports on the March 2018 deadline, which found a drop of 10% in applications to nursing in England.