Scrap student debt to boost nursing numbers, says RCN

The number of people wanting to study nursing is down by 17% from 2016.

Laura Townsend
23 July 2020
nursing students on the ward

There are around 40,000 unfilled nursing vacancies in the NHS across England.

A new report from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), explores ways to increase the number of new nurses in England in the long term.


The report, Beyond the Bursary: Workforce Supply, highlights the long-term investment needed in higher education to help address the shortage of nursing staff, and the wider benefits it may bring.

In 2017, the nursing student bursary for those studying in England was abolished.

This led to a subsequent and continuing decline in nursing degree applicants, followed by the Government backtracking and announcing an annual maintenance grant of between £5,000 and £8,000 per student from this September.

While this year has seen a small uplift in applications, the numbers are still down by 17% from 2016/17.


Thinking of leaving.

Going into the pandemic, there were approximately 40,000 unfilled nursing vacancies in the NHS in England alone. However, a survey of approximately 42,000 RCN members in England, published last week, showed that 36% were thinking of leaving the profession.

The RCN says that to increase the number of nursing graduates in England, the Government must provide appropriate support throughout the degree. It must also demonstrate that the nursing profession is valued by widening support to include those who have missed out due to the removal of the old funding and those who will not receive the full benefit from the new maintenance grants.

The RCN also urges the Government, with immediate effect, to reimburse tuition fees or forgive current debt for all nursing, midwifery, and allied health care students impacted by the removal of the bursary.

They also plead for the abolishment of self-funded tuition fees for all nursing, midwifery, and allied health care students starting in 2020/21. As well as, introduce universal, living maintenance grants that reflect actual student need.


Grow our domestic workforce.

Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said; “The pandemic has shone a light like never before on the work of nurses. It also saw many thousands of student nurses come forward to provide their services across the NHS. Yet when they finish their training they will be left with tens of thousand of pounds of debt which, for many, will never be paid off.

“Now is the time to grow our domestic workforce supply and properly invest in the training of new nurses to deliver safe and effective care in every acute and community setting, in both health and social care, across the country.”

Jessica Sainsbury, Chair of the RCN’s Students’ Committee, added; “Everyone who wants to become a nurse should be encouraged and supported to do so, and all financial barriers must be removed. I and my fellow nursing students urge the Government to fund our future nurses to build a nursing workforce that meets patient needs for the long term.”

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