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Shortfall of nursing students ‘extremely worrying’, says RCN Scotland

RCN Scotland said the shortfall of nursing students was ‘extremely worrying’ (Andrew Milligan/PA)
RCN Scotland said the shortfall of nursing students was ‘extremely worrying’ (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Nursing leaders have spoken out about “extremely worrying” figures showing almost 1,000 places to study the subject at university are not yet filled.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said nursing and midwifery had a recommended intake of 4,837 students for 2022-23, data from the universities admissions body Ucas showed there were 3,850 students who had been accepted on to courses.

This shortfall could “only add to the nursing workforce crisis”, RCN Scotland’s Eileen McKenna said.

The figures come as the RCN prepares to ballot nurses in Scotland over industrial action after the 5% pay rise offered by the Scottish Government was rejected.

Official figures, meanwhile, showed the NHS had more than 6,200 nursing vacancies at the end of March 2022.

Ms McKenna, the associate director for nursing, policy and professional practice at RCN Scotland, congratulated all those students who are “embarking on their nursing journey”.

She added: “Nursing is a fantastic career with a vast range of opportunities and seeing so many decide that their future is in nursing spurs the RCN to keep fighting for our profession.

“However, today’s figures are extremely worrying.

“The impact of failing to fill the number of places on nursing and midwifery courses must not be underestimated. This will only add to the nursing workforce crisis.”

She urged ministers to act to ensure nursing is seen as “an attractive and rewarding career”.

Ms McKenna said the Scottish Government needs to “reward today’s experienced staff with a fair pay rise and demonstrate that a career in nursing shouldn’t come with a personal financial sacrifice”.

She also stated: “They need to ensure nursing students have adequate financial support to allow them to prioritise their education and cope with the rising cost of living.”

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said the NHS workforce in Scotland was at “historically high levels”, adding: “Nursing and midwifery staffing is up by 5.8% since the onset of the pandemic.

“The clearing process is ongoing and final numbers will not be known until the end of the cycle in December, however it’s welcome that compared to 2019 today’s Ucas figures show there has been an increase of over 5% in the number of acceptances for nursing places and over 7% in midwifery places in Scotland. For context the number of nursing acceptances in Wales are down by over 17% over the same period.

“I look forward to any remaining places on medical and nursing courses being filled.

“We have increased available places on undergraduate nursing and midwifery courses over 10 consecutive years – doubling the number in the last decade – and increased the non-means tested, non-repayable nursing and midwifery student bursary to £10,000 in 2020. Free tuition is also provided for eligible undergraduate students in addition to funding for placement expenses, uniforms, and disclosure and health checks.

“Current and future students will be vital in our work to expand the capacity of the NHS and I would like to congratulate all those who have secured a place and all those still going through the clearance process.”