Scrapping the nursing bursary in England has led to a drop in applications for 2017, raising concerns for the workforce.
The RCN has expressed concern that the effects of Brexit and the ageing workforce will exacerbate the recruitment problem and make nursing unsustainable.
Nursing degree applications have fallen by 20% since the Government replaced bursaries with student loans, according to research by The Times.
The drop in applications for nursing, midwifery and allied health subjects is also twice that of other courses, according to the survey by the vice-chancellors’ body Universities UK.
The 2017 intake of student nurses will graduate in 2020, when the effects of the reduced applications on the workforce will be felt.
RCN advice “fell on deaf ears”
Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “The drastic fall in nursing applications that we warned would happen has happened.
“We have consistently raised concerns to the Government that their decision to charge fees to nursing students in England and replace NHS bursaries with student loans would result in this drop.
“Despite 100 years of nursing knowledge and expertise, our advice fell on deaf ears. The Government went ahead in gambling on the future of the nursing workforce.”
A “perfect storm”
Findings from the Institute of Employment Studies this week have shown what Brexit and the ageing nursing population will mean for the workforce.
Nearly one in three nurses will reach 60 and be due to retire over the next 10 years, according to the IES analysis.
Stephanie Aiken, RCN Deputy Director of Nursing, said: “This research chimes with our warnings about a perfect storm engulfing the NHS in the future, when the current nursing recruitment crisis risks reaching catastrophic proportions.
“It will give us no pleasure if we are proved right. With an ageing population, and more people living with multiple complex conditions, we will need more graduate, registered nurses than ever.”
Referring to the drop in nursing applications she added: “Coupled with the effects of Brexit, this may become a double whammy for the nursing profession which could make NHS services nigh-on impossible to sustain.”
“The UK’s decision to leave the EU was unprecedented and unplanned for,” the IES report said.
“Whatever form Brexit eventually takes, it could well lead to a reduced supply of labour from the EU.”
The number of EU workers which nursing relies on could be reduced by the uncertainty around their ability to apply for UK jobs, those already here voluntarily leaving, or by the Government restricting their entry.
EU nurses currently make up 4.5% of the total nursing workforce in England. This has increased from just over 1% in 2009.
In response to the drop in applications, university vice-chancellors are planning a campaign with health bodies to encourage more people to train as nurses.
The campaign will run well beyond the normal deadline for university course applications to encourage candidates to make late submissions or apply through clearing in the summer.