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Student nurse numbers fall by 10% across UK

Student nurse numbers fall by 10% across UK

There has been a 10% drop in student nurses accepted onto nursing programmes in the UK, the first fall in acceptances since 2019, Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) data has shown.

In total across 2022, 29,445 students were accepted onto UK nursing courses, compared to 32,705 the year before – a drop of 2,575, although the numbers accepted onto courses is still higher than in 2019.

The data follows a 7% drop in student acceptances onto UK university courses on A-Level results day this year, according to UCAS data published in August, and an 8% fall in UCAS applications to UK nursing programmes revealed in July.

This year’s decrease comes after the number of students being accepted onto courses rose between 2019 and 2021.

Between 2019 and 2020, the number of nurses entering education soared by almost 7,000, from 25,890 in 2019 to 32,575 in 2020. This figure continued to rise slightly in 2021, up to 32,705.

2019202020212022
England19,77025,51025,81523,240
Northern Ireland8451,045910940
Scotland3,7604,3654,2903,950
Wales1,5151,6551,6901,315
Total25,89032,57532,70529,445
Source: UCAS. Acceptances by country of provider.

Wales saw the biggest drop in student numbers, with a 22% fall in students joining nursing courses. It was also the only country to see lower levels of nurses accepted this year than in 2019, with a 13% decrease.

Northern Ireland, meanwhile, saw a slight increase in the number of students accepted onto nursing courses, with 3% more nursing students accepted in 2022 than the year before.

Responding to the figures, RCN secretary general Pat Cullen said that it was ‘deeply troubling to see things heading in the wrong direction. People are put off nursing by the poor and unfair treatment this fantastic profession gets, often at the hands of politicians.

‘With record waiting lists, we need the pipeline of the nurses of the future to be expanding, not contracting. That acceptances on to nursing-degree courses, and applications to them, is falling does not bode well for our profession – or for the safety of patients.’

As the number of nurses entering education falls attention may well now turn to the Government’s commitment to recruit 50,000 new nurses by 2024, although the RCN has criticised the Government for becoming ‘overly reliant’ on overseas recruitment to achieve this.

Last month, Nuffield Trust reported that over 40,000 nurses quit the NHS over the last year, leaving a record number of roles unfilled. 

A representative for Health Education England said: ‘Off the back of the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw unprecedented numbers of student nurses being accepted onto nursing UG courses and the small fall in the number of students being accepted onto degree courses was expected this year.

‘However, the number of applicants is higher in 2022 than it was in 2020 and we are pleased at the progress that has been made since 2019 and nursing continues to remain a popular career choice.

‘These are not the only routes into nursing, we have increases in post graduate, nursing degree apprentices and nursing associate top up programme, all which is adding thousands of further recruits to the pipeline into the nursing profession.’

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