Number of student nursing applications 'drop by 20% in Scotland'

RCN described the figures as a 'real cause for concern' amid staff shortages and mounting pressure within the health service.

Student nursing applications fall by a fifth in Scotland, UCAS figures show iStock

The number of people applying to nursing programmes in Scotland has dropped by nearly a fifth (20%) in the last year.

The number of applicants to Scottish programmes was 6,450 as of June 30 2023, compared to 7,930 in 2022 and 9,010 in 2021 according to UCAS.

The number of applicants applying to study nursing in Scotland at this point in the UCAS cycle is below the pre-pandemic number of 7,290 applicants from 2019. 

The number of applicants was highest in 2021, reflecting an increase in demand for certain courses, including medicine and nursing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Colin Poolman, RCN Scotland director, said: “This significant drop in applications to nursing courses in Scotland is a real cause for concern amid the stubbornly high registered nurse vacancy rates and ongoing workforce challenges which are compromising patient safety and the wellbeing of staff.

“Our recent report on the costs of becoming a nurse highlighted the significant financial pressures that student nurses are facing. The prospect of starting a degree course during a cost of living crisis is bound to be having an impact. Nursing is a hugely diverse profession and relies on attracting people of all ages and all walks of life, often as a second career.

“The Scottish Government needs to demonstrate that nursing is valued and a career choice worth pursuing.

“The Ministerial Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce provides an opportunity to ensure that current and future nursing students get the financial support they need to prioritise their education, cope with the rising cost of living and finish their studies successfully without falling into financial hardship.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The attraction and retention of people into nursing and midwifery is a key part of the remit of the Nursing & Midwifery Taskforce.

“We continue to provide the highest non-repayable, non-means tested bursary support in the UK at £10,000 for eligible students, as well as reimbursement of expenses and a range of allowances. We value our student nurses and midwives and that is why they receive the highest student bursary in Scotland.

“Our £568m pay deal for NHS Agenda for Change staff means they are, by far and away, the best paid anywhere in the UK. We are also committed to delivering the most progressive package of terms and conditions reform in decades.

“Applicants through UCAS can apply for up to 5 undergraduate programmes at a time and can, and do, apply to nursing and midwifery programmes over the summer as part of the annual clearing process.

“Data on acceptances into nursing programmes will start to be known in October when that process has completed. This is set against a backdrop of ten years of consecutive increases in funded places, and was still higher than pre-covid levels.”

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