Scottish nursing student applications fall for third year in a row

The number of people applying for nursing courses in Scotland has fallen by 8.3%.

The number of people applying to study to become a nurse in Scotland has fallen for the third year in a row, figures suggest.

The figures show 4,650 people applied for nursing courses starting this autumn compared to 5,070 the year before – a drop of 8.3%.

Potential applicants still have a few more months left to send in their details to be considered for courses, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

However, the college has described the latest figures as “extremely worrying” coming after a 24% fall in acceptances onto undergraduate nurses courses in 2023 compared to the year before, when there were 6,690 applications.


The number of people applying to study to become a nurse in Scotland has fallen for the third year in a row, figures suggest. #stvnews #news #nursing #scotland

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That figure was also down from the previous year, there being 7,920 applications in 2021 – although that figure could have been inflated by the effects of Covid.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said the figures demonstrated newly-appointed health secretary, Neil Gray, “has his work cut out” to address NHS staffing issues.

The Royal College of Nursing has described the figures as iStock

Eileen McKenna, RCN Scotland associate director, said: “Nursing remains a fantastic career but these figures suggest getting that message across to potential applicants is getting harder and harder every year.

“For anyone considering nursing as a career, but think they have missed the opportunity to apply this year, be reassured that universities across Scotland are still accepting applications. Just get in touch with your preferred university for further information.

“That’s now three years in a row that the number of applicants at this time of year has fallen and it’s an extremely worrying trend.

“Scotland does not have the number of nurses now that it needs to meet the demand for care in health and social care services. The NHS alone has more than 3,700 registered nurse vacancies.

“This is a desperate situation and it is more important than ever that the ministerial nursing and midwifery taskforce proposes the right actions to directly address the workforce challenges.

“The Scottish Government must back the taskforce up by finding the financial resources needed to deliver change and ensure nursing is positioned as a career of choice.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said: “This worrying downward trend is part of a vicious cycle. If courses don’t fill up, existing staff come under greater pressure and more patients suffer. The SNP are putting the very future of our health service at risk.

“The complete failure by this SNP-Green government to recruit and retain staff stretches all the way back to Nicola Sturgeon cutting training places and claiming that was sensible.

“Neil Gray has his work cut out. He must completely overhaul the failed NHS recovery plan of his predecessors and do everything possible to promote nursing as a rewarding career.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats would deliver the safe staffing legislation that Parliament agreed years ago, as well as a plan to meaningfully tackle burnout among staff – a plan that the SNP and Greens were wrong to vote down when we previously brought it to Parliament.”

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Dame Jackie Baillie said: “These figures are a damning reminder of how damaged the perception of nursing in Scotland has become under the SNP’s watch.

“Years of seeing our NHS with an understaffed, overstretched nursing workforce has put a generation of young people off entering this fantastic profession.”

She added: “Neil Gray must realise that unless he comes forward with a credible plan that will address staffing shortages and reduce the pressure on our health and social care services more people will avoid a career in nursing and our NHS will continue to lose out on the dedicated nurses it desperately needs.”

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.

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