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Drop in student nurse numbers jeopardises safe patient care

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Figures released today show nursing student numbers in England have fallen by a further 4% in the last year, and 11% since student funding was removed in 2016.

With England’s health care services already struggling to cope in the face of 40,000 nursing vacancies, the RCN has warned the fall in student numbers further jeopardises the future supply of nurses, and puts safe patient care at risk.

In 2015, ministers sold their reform of nurse student funding as a way to boost student places and increase the number of trainees in England. Yet today’s figures show the nurse staffing crisis looks set to get worse.

Across the UK there has been a 2% drop, with 21,030 students due to start undergraduate university courses compared to 21,490 in 2017, and an 8% drop (from 22,830) since 2016.

There has been a further fall in the number of mature nursing students since funding was removed in England in 2016, with numbers dropping 10% cent UK wide. In England the situation is even worse, with a 16% drop (from 7,450 to 6,260). 

This could leave specialist areas already worst hit by the wider staffing crisis, such as learning disability and mental health nursing, struggling to recruit. 

Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN Director of Nursing Policy and Practice, said: “Ministers’ decisions on student funding have left nursing in managed decline. Today’s figures should be the wake-up call the Government needs to properly address the staffing crisis that’s putting safe and effective patient care at risk. 

“We urgently need comprehensive workforce plans that safeguard recruitment and retention and respond to patient needs in each country of the UK. 

“Though we will see additional students placed through clearing in the coming weeks, today’s figures mean fewer nurses will enter our understaffed health care system in three years’ time, further jeopardising patient care. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.  

“The Government is nowhere near recruiting the 10,000 extra health care students we were promised by 2020. We need nurses with the education and skills to lead patient care. It’s time for ministers to take decisive action to address the nursing shortage and keep patients safe.”

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