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Slump in nursing course acceptances will worsen staffing crisis – union boss

Fewer A-level students were admitted to nursing courses in 2022 than in 2021 (David Jones/PA)
Fewer A-level students were admitted to nursing courses in 2022 than in 2021 (David Jones/PA)

A slump in acceptances on nursing degrees this year will worsen the staffing crisis in health and social care, a union leader has warned.

Royal College of Nursing chief Pat Cullen said figures released by Ucas on Thursday showing 1,560 fewer students were admitted to courses than in 2021 were pointing “in the wrong direction”.

There are 21,130 accepted applicants onto nursing courses this year compared with 22,690 last year, the RCN said.

Ms Cullen said: “To address the staffing crisis and give the kind of care patients deserve, we need these figures to look even stronger. Sadly, they have headed in the wrong direction this year.

“The impact of this drop in acceptances to nursing courses, along with the drop in applications this year, must not be underestimated. It will only add to the growing nursing workforce crisis.”

It comes after a damning report last month found that persistent understaffing in the NHS is creating a serious risk to patient safety.

The cross-party Health and Social Care Committee said health and social care services in England face “the greatest workforce crisis in their history” and the Government has no credible strategy to make the situation better.

Projections suggest an extra 475,000 jobs will be needed in health and an extra 490,000 jobs in social care by the early part of the next decade.

Earlier on Thursday, Education Secretary James Cleverly defended the Government’s refusal to lift the cap on medical student admissions this year and said it was increasing NHS recruitment.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme why the Government will not lift the cap, he said: “The NHS has always relied significantly on medical professionals from overseas, and I doubt that that will change any time in my lifetime.

“We are recruiting more doctors and more nurses, we are training more homegrown medical talent. That is right.

“We are seeing those medical professional numbers go up, but, as I say, the nature of those incredibly highly technical vocational medical courses makes them different to other courses.”

He later said medical courses in other countries often have “huge” fees for students, adding: “We have chosen to make a different decision. We don’t put the financial burden on the students themselves.

“The Government heavily subsidises courses because the courses themselves are important and that is the trade-off.”

Meanwhile, NHS England has urged students who are still undecided on their next steps to “make the most of clearing opportunities” and apply for a place on a nursing course.

Ruth May, NHS chief nursing officer, said: “Joining the NHS was the best decision I ever made so if you are a student thinking about your next steps, please consider applying to study nursing through Ucas clearing – it is one of the most employable degrees around and probably the most rewarding career in the world.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Congratulations to all those receiving their A-Level and T-Level results today, and especially to those who will be joining our fantastic NHS and social care workforce.

“A career in the NHS or social care is hugely rewarding and with a variety of routes in to develop your career and skills, you will undoubtedly be making a difference to people’s lives every single day.”