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Rise in new student nurse numbers not enough to fill vacancies, warns RCN

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said the slight increase in new students accepted onto nursing undergraduate degree courses in England is not enough to fill vacancies without 'significant investment'.

Official figures from the Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS) released today (15 August) show that 16,500 people were accepted onto nursing courses in England this year, a 4% rise from the same point in 2018.  

However, the number of applications accepted was down by 8% from 2016, which is the last year tuition fees were accepted under the bursary scheme.

Mature students were hit hardest by the decision to scrap the bursary - and though the number of new students aged 25 or over increased by 4% to 6,530 in 2019, this figure is down 12% from 2016.  

At the time that the bursary was axed, ministers stated the aim of the funding reform was to boost student places and increase the number of nursing students. 

But the RCN has said the latest figures show the funding change 'failed to work' and urged the Government to significantly invest in nursing education. 

It repeated calls for the Government to invest at least £1 billion per year into nursing education in England, which it says must be underpinned by workforce planning for future population needs. 

RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said she appreciated efforts by NHS England to boost nursing numbers - such as expanding clinical placements by 25% - but said this was not enough to tackle the 40,000 vacancies in nursing and midwifery.  

She continued: ‘Today’s figures still show that there will still be fewer nurses than we need entering our understaffed health and care system on completion of their courses. 

‘If we are to boost the numbers needed to give patients the care they deserve we need to see decisive action through proper and sustained investment in our nurses of the future.’ 

The UCAS data also showed there were 21,870 people placed on nursing courses in 2019 across the UK overall, a slight increase from 21,030 in 2018.

Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales saw increases in application numbers by 7%, 4% and 1% respectively. 

The number of applications accepted across the UK from outside the EU peaked this year at 160 - a 220% increase from 50 in 2016, the year of the EU referendum.  

In contrast, there were 340 new students from inside the EU in 2019, which represents just a slight rise from 330 in 2018 and a 20% drop from 430 in 2016. 

Dr Katerina Kolyva, executive director of the Council of Deans of Health, which represents university faculties for nursing, midwifery and the allied health professionals, said: 'The increase in placed applicants to undergraduate nursing courses in all four nations demonstrates that nursing continues to be highly regarded by prospective students as a valuable and rewarding career. It also reflects the hard work done by universities to recruit to courses and this will continue throughout clearing.

'Despite this, there is more work to be done if we are to provide the future workforce the NHS needs and encourage applications to courses where places have been harder to fill. Recruitment to nursing, midwifery and allied health professions courses could be further supported by the introduction of maintenance grants for healthcare students and the NHS recruitment campaign, which was a positive first step, needs to be sustained in future years and extended to focus on all the professions.'

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