Nursing applications decline raises union concerns

New figures indicate a significant decrease in applications for nursing programs in Scotland over the past year.

UCAS data reveals a 19% decline in nursing program applications during the 12-month period leading up to June 30. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) considers this figure to be both significant and worrisome.

The Scottish government expressed its appreciation for student nurses and midwives, highlighting that they receive the highest student bursary available in Scotland.

The most recent figures indicate that there were 6,450 applicants vying for spots in Scottish courses, a decrease from 7,930 in 2022 and 9,010 in 2021.

The current number of nursing applicants at this stage of the UCAS cycle is lower than the pre-pandemic figure of 7,290 applicants recorded in 2019.

The highest number of applicants was observed in 2021, reflecting an upsurge in demand for specific courses such as medicine and nursing amid the global health crisis.

The ongoing trend poses an additional setback to NHS recovery efforts, compounding the existing challenge of high vacancy rates. The Royal College of Nursing reported that 8.5% of registered nurse positions remained unfilled as of the end of March.

Recent reports unveiled that annual expenditure on temporary staff within the NHS in Scotland surged to an all-time high, exceeding £560 million, which represents a more than one-third increase compared to the previous year.

During the period leading up to March 31, data revealed that £447.4 million was allocated to bank and agency nursing and midwifery staff expenditures.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, the largest health board, allocated nearly £130 million to address nursing and midwife shortages.

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Colin Poolman, Director of RCN Scotland, expressed deep concern regarding the notable decline in nursing course applications in Scotland. He emphasized the persistence of high registered nurse vacancy rates and ongoing workforce difficulties that adversely impact patient safety and staff well-being.

In addition, he pointed out that a recent report by the nursing union highlighted the substantial financial burdens faced by student nurses while pursuing their education.

Mr. Poolman remarked, “The current cost of living crisis undoubtedly has an impact on the prospect of embarking on a degree course.”

“Nursing is a profession of great diversity, attracting individuals from various backgrounds and ages, often as a second career. The Scottish government must show its recognition of the value of nursing and ensure it is a worthwhile and appealing career choice.”

In response to the decline in applications, Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie expressed her concern, stating, “With over 5,500 nursing and midwifery vacancies in Scotland and an already overstretched workforce, this sharp decline in applications is extremely worrying. It poses the risk of creating a staffing timebomb that will further burden our NHS.”

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