The number of students accepted onto nursing courses in England fell by 13% compared with the last academic year, UCAS data released today has revealed.
As students across the country receive their A-level results, doubt has been cast over the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan’s targeted expansion of the nursing workforce as the number of students starting training has fallen.
In the 2023 academic year, data from UCAS, which handles undergraduate university applications, showed that 18,300 students were accepted onto nursing courses in England, a 13% reduction compared with 2022 when 21,130 students were accepted.
This reduction is largely driven by a comparable decrease in the number of students applying to courses in 2023.
In 2022, English nursing courses received 41,220 applications, whereas in 2023 courses received 18% fewer applications with only 33,570 received.
This comes amid concerns that a large number of students may miss the grades required by their courses due to students receiving 73,000 fewer As and A*s, the acceptance rates of nursing courses has actually increased slightly.
In 2023, 54.4% of students who applied to a nursing course in England were accepted, compared with 51.2% in 2022.
The Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) deputy director for nursing, Dr Nichola Ashby, warned that acceptance numbers must increase if the NHS Long Term Workforce plan is to succeed in boosting the nursing workforce.
‘The UK Government has stumbled at the first hurdle of their NHS Workforce Plan, with 13% fewer people expected to take up nursing courses this year in England,’ said Dr Ashby.
‘These numbers are not just a sad story for today, but a story for years to come of how the ministers baked future nursing shortages into the NHS.’
Recent analysis conducted by the Health Foundation estimated that the required intake of first-year student nurses would need to increase to 72,400 by 2031/32 if the targets of the long term plan are to be met.
This would be equivalent to an increase of approximately 32,000 students more starting courses each year over the next decade.
Dr Ashby said that the government must start ‘providing details’ on how student numbers will be increased, and recommended funding more university places and removing ‘the burden of student debt and tuition fees’ from nurses.
A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘Nursing continues to be a rewarding career with thousands of people choosing to study nursing and midwifery every year. The latest applicant numbers are still 12% higher than in 2019, following a surge of applications during the pandemic, with eligible students receiving a training grant of at least £5,000 a year.
‘There will be more students coming through clearing eager to start careers in nursing, as well as those coming through apprenticeship routes.’