16/08/2018 14:20 BST | Updated 16/08/2018 16:30 BST

Drop In Student Nurse Numbers Putting Patients At Risk, Union Warns

Ministers scrapped a dedicated bursary scheme.

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Patient safety has been put at risk by the government’s decision to cut the student nursing bursary, a union has warned.

The caution came on A-level results day, as it was revealed that the number of new student nurses in England has fallen by 11 percent to 15,210 since 2016. There has been an overall 8 percent drop in numbers across the UK.

The decline follows the controversial scrapping of the government’s nursing bursary, which means students must now fund their degrees through loans. 

On Thursday, the Royal College of Nursing warned that the decision had left nursing in “managed decline”, with data suggesting there are currently 40,000 nursing vacancies in England alone.

“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,” said Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN’s director of nursing policy and practice.

“Though we will see additional students placed through clearing in the coming weeks, today’s figures mean fewer nurses will enter our understaffed healthcare system in three years’ time, further jeopardising patient care.”

Across the UK, a further 7,960 students have a holding offer for a university place and 14,540 are free to be placed in clearing. 

But there are particular worries that a 16 percent drop in the number of mature students – from 7,450 to 6,260 – will leave specialist areas of nursing which rely on significant life experience, like learning disability and mental health, worst hit by the staffing crisis. 

“The government is nowhere near recruiting the 10,000 extra health care students we were promised by 2020,” Kinnair added. 

“It’s time for ministers to take decisive action to address the nursing shortage and keep patients safe.” 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The NHS runs on the dedication and commitment of our wonderful nurses, who work tirelessly to provide the highest quality of care for their patients.

“There are currently 52,000 nurses in NHS training with more to come thanks to our 25% increase in training places, and in a historic pay deal backed by the Royal College of Nursing we increased the starting salary of a nurse by £2,000 – helping us to recruit our NHS nurses of the future.”