One in ten nursing vacancies across the NHS in England remain unfilled.
The number of applicants to nursing courses in the UK has fallen by a massive 13,380 in just two years.
According to the latest Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) data, the number of applications to join the profession has now fallen to pre-pandemic levels.
Just 39,900 applications were received for undergraduate nursing courses across the UK, down from 53,280 in 2021. However, combined with poor attrition rates, a large number of these will never qualify.
It comes as the nursing workforce feels increasingly stretched. Official figures show that around 1 in 10 nursing vacancies across the NHS in England remain unfilled.
In England, the recently published NHS Long Term Workforce Plan outlines an ambition to significantly increase the number of people undertaking nursing degrees in an attempt to plug workforce gaps.
RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive Pat Cullen 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.
“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.”
The RCN believes there are likely several factors that have contributed to the figures falling, from continued below inflation pay rises to the UK government’s failure to address concerns of adequate financial support for students.
“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,” said Pat.