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Record student nurse acceptances on A-level results day ‘not enough’



A record number of students accepted onto nursing courses this summer after A-level results came out today is not enough to counteract high nurse vacancy rates, the RCN has said.

UCAS figures released today show the number of students accepted onto nursing courses across the UK has increased by 8% from last year, from 24,760 to 26,730. This is partly because of the all-time high proportion of A and A* grades in UK A-level entries this year.

RCN England director Patricia Marquis praised the ‘high profile and professionalism of nursing staff during the pandemic’ for inspiring prospective students to apply. But she stressed ‘acceptance numbers are still not keeping pace with vacancies’ amid ‘significant shortages in nursing’.

Many students will not qualify until 2024 at the earliest, while some may drop out, she pointed out, adding: ‘Pressures of the pandemic have also left nursing staff exhausted. This not only puts patient care at risk but means students risk not completing their studies and entering the workforce.’

England was the only country with a significant rise in acceptances for nursing, with an 9% increase from 18,770 last year to 20,390. Wales’ rose slightly from 1,280 to 1,290. But Northern Ireland saw a slight drop, from 880 to 780, and Scotland’s fell from 3,830 to 3,730.

Most age groups saw a rise in acceptances, but the biggest jump was among 18-year-olds who had a 22% increase from last year, from 5,850 to 7,150.

There was an overall record number of 435,430 people from the UK and overseas with places confirmed at universities this year, up 5% on the same point last year. Among UK applicants, 388,230 have been accepted – an 8% rise compared with results day last year. 

In England this year, 44.3% of A-level entries gained A* and A grades, compared with 38.1% in 2020. In Wales, 48.3% of overall entries gained A* and A grades, compared to 41.8% in 2020. And in Northern Ireland, it was 50.8% – an increase from 43.3% last year.

Ms Marquis also urged ministers to ‘reverse the 3% pay deal if we are to discourage many from abandoning the profession, leaving future nurses without the expert teaching they need’.

This comes after the RCN launched a ‘summer of action’ protesting the 3% NHS pay award for England and Wales, including a potential vote on industrial action. It has been campaigning for a 12.5% wage boost for nursing staff.

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