Nursing applications rise by a third amid pandemic, Ucas data shows

Zoe TidmanThu, 18 February 2021, 8:01 am

NHS England’s chief nursing officer says the increase was ‘great news' (Getty Images)
NHS England’s chief nursing officer says the increase was ‘great news’ (Getty Images)

The number of students who have applied to nursing courses at university has risen by almost a third amid the coronairus pandemic, according to new data from the universities admissions body.

More than 60,000 people have made applications to nursing courses starting this autumn, the latest statistics from Ucas show.

This is a rise of 32 per cent in total – with around 45,000 applications made by the same point in January last year.

Increases were seen across all age groups, the admissions body said.

A record 16,560 applications were made by UK 18-year-old school leaders – up by more than 25 per cent from the year before, the data shows. Meanwhile, the number of applications from mature students aged 35 and over passed 10,000 for the first time.

“This surge in interest from people – of all ages – wanting to study nursing is incredible, and is great news for the public and the health service,” Ruth May, chief nursing officer for NHS England, said in light of the latest statistics.

“During Covid-19, the level of interest in working for the NHS has trumped lots of other careers options, and that speaks volumes about how people recognise our profession, particularly following our most challenging year.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the NHS had a shortage of around 40,000 nurses.

Chris Millward from the Office for Students (OfS) also welcomed the increase in nursing applications across all age groups.

The body’s director for fair access and participation said this will be “essential in supporting our healthcare workforce and for building the skills needed across the country”, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, Helen Whately, the government minister for care, said she was “delighted” by the “incredible boost” in applications.

“These are the nurses of the future who will help the NHS and social care recover from this pandemic and continue to deliver world-class care to patients for years to come,” she said.

The minister added: “We’re another step closer to delivering 50,000 more nurses for our NHS and providing better healthcare for everyone.”

In 2019, Boris Johnson pledged 50,000 more nurses for the NHS by 2024 – but admitted only 31,000 would be completely new recruits, with the rest persuaded to remain in the workforce.

In the same year, the prime minister announced a £5,000 a year grant for all students on nursing courses from September 2020, with additional payments of up to £3,000 are available for students in regions or specialisms struggling to recruit.

Ucas data for the end of last year’s application cycle showed the demand for nursing places shot back up to above 60,000 for the first time since the government scrapped bursaries in 2017, requiring nurses to pay full tuition fees.

The number of yearly nursing applicants had dropped to under 55,000 between 2017 and 2019, having not dipped below 60,000 for years.

A total of 62,920 applicants made a nursing choice by the June application deadline in 2020.