OU report calls for action on barriers to student nursing with hundreds of places vacant

One in 20 places on university nursing courses was vacant at the beginning of the academic year, new research suggests.

The data secured by The Open University under the Freedom of Information Act indicates this is the equivalent of 1,450 potential nurses.

Published on Thursday, the Breaking Barriers To Nursing report indicates that if all places to study nursing are filled each year, 10,100 more nurses could be fully qualified in 10 years’ time, with a further 4,340 still studying.

This would fill 13% of the forecast nursing deficit, it says.

According to the research, the cost of study or living away from home, and concerns about repaying student loans were the most significant obstacles to those interested in becoming a registered nurse.

Other important issues were travel, entry requirements and workload.

Using data from the Health Foundation and Ucas, the report says on average, around a quarter (24%) of students drop out before completing their study – 6,740 from each intake.

Sally Boyle, from The Open University, said: “It is devastating that at a time when the healthcare sector is under enormous pressure there are so many people who are being deterred from pursuing a nursing career.

“Something must be done to overcome the issues of under-subscription and trainee attrition, so that the NHS and other healthcare providers can continue to provide safe patient care.

“There are a number of barriers to studying nursing that can be easily addressed if Higher Education Institutions, healthcare employers and the Government work together to take advantage of available technologies and initiatives, such as flexible technology-enabled learning and apprenticeships.

“By ensuring that the maximum possible number of nurses are training and registering each year, the sector will have better access to the nurses it urgently needs.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Nursing is an incredibly rewarding career and with a 4.5% increase in applications to nursing and midwifery courses, more students are keen to join the 52,000 nurses currently in training.

“We recently introduced hardship funding to better support nurses in training and as part of our Long Term Plan we have provided funding to increase nurse training places by 25%, and our People Plan later this year will secure the staff the NHS needs for the future.”

A Universities UK spokesman said: “Since the removal of the bursary, universities have worked hard to fill degree courses for nursing students.

“In line with our wider suggestions on student support, we urge Government to listen to our calls – made with the Royal College of Nursing – to invest in maintenance grants for nursing.

“Without sufficient funding, workforce shortages will deepen and place an increasing burden on existing staff and risk to patient care.”

– The Open University issued FoI requests to 77 Higher Education Institutions in the UK, of which 55% responded.

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