NHS: Fewer people applying to university nursing courses - and why it could be related to strikes

It's official - fewer people want to become NHS nurses.
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Statistics from UCAS, which handles university applications, have revealed that application numbers for nursing degrees in the UK are down 16 per cent in 2023.

The news comes amid ongoing junior doctors strikes, with NHS consutants also going on strike later this week.

Overall, 43,920 people applied to study nursing degrees in the UK, starting in September, based on the 30 June deadline for UCAS applications. The figure is also a 22 per cent decrease from the number of applicants in 2021.

General secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Pat Cullen, has called for "urgent action" to rectify this, with an emphasis on putting patient care first.

She said: '“It is deeply concerning to see the number of people applying to study nursing falling again – a clear result of the way the profession has been treated by those in power.

“Compared to last year, this year has seen nearly 17 per cent fewer applicants from the UK applying to nursing courses, and a drop of just over a quarter since the pandemic saw a surge in applications in 2021.

“The nursing workforce remains in crisis, with record numbers forced to take time off due to stress and exhaustion and thousands leaving the profession every year. Now we are seeing this failure to invest in the workforce of today is putting off the nurses of tomorrow. This comes after the NHS Workforce Plan for England set out an ambitious long-term growth in university places - this news shows the task ahead will be even harder than expected, as less people are applying now.

"Paying nurses fairly and providing access to financial support for tuition fees will not only help with the growing cost of living for those choosing to begin the path to the profession, but also make it more attractive to join. Urgent action is needed now, or university places will go unfulfilled, vacant posts will remain empty and patient care will continue to be at risk.”

Dr Jason Oakley, head of the school of health and care professions at the University of Portsmouth, added: "At the University of Portsmouth we are concerned about the national drop in applications to some health care courses, including nursing.

"We do not currently have any evidence of the reasons behind this reduction, but would welcome any national initiatives to explore this and to boost applications to these programmes to help meet the workforce demands of the future."

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