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Nursing degree entry requirements should be lowered to boost student numbers

A report claims young people are deterred from a career in nursing by the grades required to apply.



student nurse staff nurse

Universities usually require a minimum of three A-levels at C-grade or above.

Universities should “remove unnecessary entry requirements” for undergraduate nursing degrees in order to boost student numbers, a report by the Open University (OU) states.

An investigation into why one in twenty nursing places were unfilled this year, found young people are put off a career in nursing by the grades required to apply.


Universities usually require a minimum of three A-levels at C-grade or above.

The report calls for universities to consider lowering these requirements, which are above the minimum GCSEs at C-grade or above in English and Maths (or equivalent) set by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

‘Unnecessary entry requirements’.

The OU claims these “unnecessary entry requirements” can leave those “who are passionate about becoming a nurse without the opportunity to apply for a place” and

Other perceived barriers identified by the report include; student loans, long working hours, stress on the job and travel requirements.

To tackle these barriers, the OU suggests universities should deliver lectures digitally – allowing students more flexibility in their study and reducing the need to travel.

Addressing the identified barriers could see an additional 10,000 registered nurses in the next ten years, which would start to fill the estimated 40,000 nursing vacancies.


Sally Boyle, Head of School in the Faculty of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care at The Open University said; “It is devastating that at a time when the healthcare sector is under enormous pressure there are so many people who are being deterred from pursuing a nursing career.”

“Something must be done to overcome the issues of under-subscription and trainee attrition, so that the NHS and other healthcare providers can continue to provide safe patient care.”

“There are a number of barriers to studying nursing that can be easily addressed if Higher Education Institutions, healthcare employers and the government work together to take advantage of available technologies and initiatives, such as flexible technology-enabled learning and apprenticeships.”


One in six nursing associates drop out before qualifying, finds report

Despite this trainees showed “high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the programme”.



Group of nurses in meeting

Only 65% of trainee nursing associates said they planned to work as a nursing associate once qualified.

An independent evaluation of the nursing associate role commissioned by Health Education England (HEE) has found that while there are “high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the programme”, one in six nursing associates are dropping out before completing the course.

Attrition rates for trainee nursing associates fell slightly below that of student nurses, with 18% leaving before completing the course.


While ill health and personal issues were some of the most common reasons for leaving the programme, nearly a quarter (23%) withdrew because they failed to meet the academic requirements of the programme – with numeracy skills cited as a key issue.

One trainee said they found the “attitudes towards the role and the negative feedback about Nursing Associates” challenging.

Only 65% of trainees said they intend to continue working as a nursing associate once qualified as the programme is often seen as a stepping stone to becoming a registered nursing.

Highlighting challenges.

Mark Radford, Chief Nursing Officer, Health Education England said the report “highlights some challenges that we must address to ensure that students such as ensuring the quality and oversight of placements, attrition and numeracy support.”

“We also recognise that further work and research is required to ensure that the profession is supported and utilised in the workforce of health and social care as part of the MDT. I am pleased to be able to report that we are in the process of identifying candidates to be considered as NA ambassadors across England.

Commenting on the report, Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Executive and Registrar for the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), said; “Having had the pleasure of meeting many nursing associates across the country, I am continually inspired by their enthusiasm and dedication for providing care and they should be very proud of the difference they make for the people they support.”

“I look forward to seeing how nursing associates continue to develop and be supported in their work, long into the future.”

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UCAS accused of having an ‘outdated’ view on nurses

They describe the nursing role to prospective students as looking after people when they are sick or injured.



Student Nurse Lecture Theatre

UCAS describes nurses as providing “support to doctors and other medical staff”.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has been accused of having an “outdated” view on nurses after it described the profession as providing “support to doctors and other medical staff”.

UCAS describes the nursing role to prospective students as looking after people when they are sick or injured. Adding; “You’ll provide support to doctors and other medical staff, take blood and urine samples, and in some cases, you may carry out minor surgical procedures.”


Nurses, alongside a multitude of other healthcare professionals, have taken to social media calling for the description to be amended so it “adequately reflects nursing in the 21st century”. They also criticised the article for failing to highlight a large number of health promotion and research roles frequently undertaken by the profession.

BJ Walto, a senior member of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) commented that the description is “inaccurate, demeaning and totally misleading portrayal of nursing.”

Tom Wavlin, a Lecturer in Adult Nursing & Admissions Tutor at the University of Plymouth, suggested the description could instead read; “an autonomous practitioner of nursing who works closely with other healthcare professionals”.

In comparison, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) website reads; “Registered nurses play a vital role in providing, leading and coordinating care that is compassionate, evidence-based, and person-centred. They are accountable for their own actions and must be able to work autonomously, or as an equal partner with a range of other professionals, and in interdisciplinary teams.”

A spokesperson for UCAS said; “It’s clear that our current role profile for nurses doesn’t reflect the amazing work that nurses across the country do each day, and we welcome the feedback we’ve recently received.

“We want to make sure that students considering their future options have up-to date information about all different careers available to them.

“We’re currently updating all of our job profiles and are in touch with nursing experts to help us make sure that we better reflect the roles and responsibilities of nurses today.”

UPDATE (17/10/19 09:55): This article was updated to include a comment from UCAS.

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