Universities and Colleges Admissions Services data published last week shows that there were 58,550 applications for a nursing degree by 30 June this year in the UK, up from 50,880 in 2019, a rise of 15%.
However, the Royal College of Nursing has warned a ‘much larger increase’ is needed ‘to get anywhere close’ to the Government’s target of 50,000 more nurses in the NHS in England by 2023.
Nursing degree applications in England are still down by 17% from 56,790 in 2016, the year of the bursary that helped cover tuition fees and living costs was scrapped, to 47,320 this year.
In Scotland, the number of people who applied to study nursing increased from 8,270 in 2019 to 9,270 in 2020. In Wales, there was a slight rise from 5,450 to 5,630.
Figures also showed an increase in the number of male applicants, with 6,170 this year compared to 4,910 in 2019. There was also a 35% rise in applicants aged 35 or over, from 9,100 in 2019 to 12,250 this year.
RCN director for England Mike Adams said: ‘To get anywhere close to the Government’s commitment of 50,000 more nurses in the NHS in England alone by the end of this Parliament, we need a much larger increase than what we have seen today.’
He continued: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the contribution that nurses, and in particular student nurses, make to the entire health and care system. The effort they have shown has to be met with investment in our future nurses.’
Health Education England chief nurse Professor Mark Radford said the figures were ‘positive’ but ‘there is much more to do’.
He continued: ‘We will be working with universities to ensure applications result in acceptances this year.’
‘It is vital that new students have a high-quality education and placement experience to progress through their course and graduate into the health and care workforce in the future,’ he added.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council warned last week that a record annual growth in its register may not be sustainable after Covid-19 because of a reliance on overseas nurses.