Nursing student numbers have predictably fallen for the second year running since the Conservatives got rid of bursaries for students.
According to figures published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) after A-Level results were received this week, applications for nursing courses in this country are down again, an 8% fall from 2016.
The fall in applications to study nursing of around 5,000 a year exacerbates a worrying shortage of 40,000 nurses across the UK.
Justin Madders MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, responding to the news that nursing student numbers in England have fallen by a further 4% in the past year, said:
“Ever since the Government first proposed removing the nurse bursary we have warned it would have disastrous consequences for the future nursing workforce.
“These figures are the latest in a long line showing that at every turn this policy is as damaging as Labour warned.
“At a time when record numbers of nurses are leaving the profession, the Government urgently needs to bring back nursing bursaries before patient safety is compromised.”
New figures revealing a drop in nursing student numbers have escalated fears about the future of the profession already in the grip of a staffing crisis.
“It’s time for ministers to take decisive action to address the nursing shortage and keep patients safe”
Since the government removed bursaries to study nursing, applications from the UK and other EU countries have – as many warned would happen – dropped off significantly, adding to an NHS staffing crisis.
NHS staff shortages have already deepened since the Brexit vote, which led to a fall in the pound and reduced the attractiveness for foreign doctors and nurses to work in the UK.
As years of real-term pay decreases bite, together with low morale, rising prices and a stagnating economy, NHS nurses have also voted with their feet and left for other more sustainable jobs. As we recently reported, for one nurse working at Lidl supermarket paid better.
Last year NHS leaders warned that the health service is now so understaffed that patient safety is being put at risk. Chris Hopson, NHS Providers’ chief executive warned: “Years of pay restraint and stressful working conditions are taking their toll”.
“Pay is becoming uncompetitive. Significant numbers of trusts say lower paid staff are leaving to stack shelves in supermarkets rather than carry on with the NHS.”
“We are getting consistent reports of retention problems because of working pressures in the health service causing stress and burnout.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) have blamed this year’s further slump in student numbers on the cynical withdrawal of bursaries to study the profession, replacing it with a loans system.
Donna Kinnair, Director of Nursing, Policy and Practice at the RCN said: “Ministers’ decisions on student funding have left nursing in managed decline… The government needs to properly address the staffing crisis that’s putting safe and effective patient care at risk.”
“It is time to stop tinkering around the edges – the government’s ad-hoc approach is clearly not working.
“We urgently need comprehensive workforce plans that safeguard recruitment and retention and responds to patient need.”
She added: “The government is nowhere near recruiting the 10,000 extra health care students we were promised by 2020. We need nurses with the education and skills to lead patient care. It’s time for ministers to take decisive action to address the nursing shortage and keep patients safe.”
Mature student applications have also dropped, putting nursing for mental health and learning disabilities at risk as these rely on mature nurses with the life experience to cope with the roles.