Latest figures show 9% drop in students accepted onto UK nursing courses

The number of students accepted onto nursing courses across the UK is down by 9% on the previous year, latest data has revealed.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has today published its latest figures, which include those who have been accepted onto programs through the clearing process over the past 28 days since student results days.

Data before this had shown a 7% decline in the number of nursing students ready to start courses in the UK. However, it now appears the situation is worse than previously thought.

The Royal College of Nursing said it recognized the “significant” number of nursing students who have joined through the clearing process so far, but stressed that the country was “still thousands short of where we were this time last year”.

The clearing process is currently ongoing and final year data will be published by UCAS in December.

Today’s data set shows that so far there has been a total of 27,410 nursing students accepted onto courses in the UK for 2022. This is down 9% on 2021, when there were 30,150 individuals placed.

However, this is a 15% increase on pre-pandemic levels in 2019, when there were 23,900 nursing students.

When broken down into the four UK nations, figures show the number of nursing students accepted onto programmes in England has fallen by 8.5% on the previous year, with 21,490 individuals placed. Again, this is, however, a 20% increase on 2019.

“We are still thousands short of where we were this time last year”

Pat Cullen

It appears Wales has seen the largest decline in nursing students, with just 1,210 individuals placed for 2022 – a 21% drop on 2021. These numbers are also down 17% on pre-pandemic figures in 2019.

Meanwhile, Scotland has seen a 9% fall in the number of nursing students accepted onto courses for 2022, compared with the previous year. Although, with 3,850 nursing students accepted for 2022, this is a 5% increase on 2019.

Northern Ireland has seen a marginal increase (1%) in nursing students accepted this year – up from 870 in 2021 to 880 in 2022. But these latest figures are also up 6% on 2019.

The data also provides a breakdown among the different ages of those accepted onto nursing courses.

Pat Cullen

Among 18-year-olds – who account for the largest age group in nursing acceptances – there were 7,590 individuals accepted, down 5% on the year before.

The largest declines were seen among those aged 21 to 24 (-19%) and those aged 25 to 29 (-22%).

In addition, there was a 10% fall recorded among those aged 30 to 34 and a 2% drop in those who were 35 and above.

In terms of gender, figures show a less than 1% increase in the number of male acceptances and a 10% drop in female acceptances.

RCN general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen, said: “Nursing is a fantastically rewarding career and it’s no surprise that thousands of young people want to join the profession.

“With their help, once they are qualified, we will be better placed to give patients the care they deserve,” she said.

She added: “A significant number have come through the clearing process, but we are still thousands short of where we were this time last year.”

Citing record numbers of unfilled nursing posts and the high levels of those leaving the profession, Ms Cullen once again called for “urgent investment” from the government to help “stem the tide”.

Meanwhile, the RCN Scotland associate director for nursing, policy and professional practice, Eileen McKenna, said today’s figures were “extremely worrying” and that a shortfall of nursing students would “only add to the nursing workforce crisis”.

Humza Yousaf. Credit: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

“The Scottish Government must act now to ensure nursing is seen as an attractive and rewarding career,” she added.

Governments in all four nations were contacted for comment.

Scotland’s health secretary Humza Yousaf stressed that final numbers would not be known until later this year, however, welcomed the increase seen since 2019 figures in the country.

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

“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.”

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