The Open University is calling on higher education institutions, NHS employers and the government to address barriers to the nursing profession, which are contributing to the UK’s chronic shortage of nurses.
This comes as data secured by The Open University under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000[i], reveals that one in 20 (6%) places available to study nursing at university were vacant at the start of the current academic year – the equivalent of 1,450 potential nurses – despite three in 10 (30%) young people seriously considering the profession.
Analysis included in the university’s Breaking Barriers to Nursing report suggests that, if key stakeholders focus on removing the barriers faced by prospective students and ensure that all places to study nursing are filled each year, an additional 10,100 nurses could be fully qualified in 10 years time, with a further 4,340 additional students still studying. This would fill 13 per cent of the forecasted nursing deficit[ii].
Money, specifically the cost of study or living away from home as well as concerns about paying back student loans, was the most significant barrier experienced by those interested in becoming a registered nurse, deterring a third (33%) of those interested in the profession. However, there are also a number of other important issues to consider, such as, travel (13%), entry requirements (11%) and workload (17%).
These issues are also affecting many of those currently studying, which may go some way to explaining low retention on nursing degrees across the UK. On average, one in four (24%) students drops out before completing their study – 6,740 from each intake[iii]. Currently, one in three (32%) of those studying are unsure if they still want to become a nurse, which raises concerns about the stability of the existing talent pipeline.
These findings come at a time when the NHS has 11,000 vacancies for full-time nursing staff in England[iv], and new registrations from the EU have fallen from more than 10,000 in 2015/16 to just 800 in 2017/18[v]. In order to address shortages and develop the nursing workforce of the future in a more sustainable way, The Open University is suggesting a number of ways to remove barriers those thinking of pursuing a career as a registered nurse:
Sally Boyle, Head of School in the Faculty of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care at The Open University, responded to the findings: “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.”
Further details on the barriers faced by prospective and current nursing students, along with solutions to the issues can be found in The Open University’s new report Breaking Barriers to Nursing.
[i] The Open University issued requests to 77 Higher Education Institutions in the UK in March 2019 under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. 55 per cent of these organisations responded to The Open University’s request for information.
[ii] The King’s Fund NHS Vacancy Report (2019) forecasts that there will be a deficit of 108,000 nurses in the UK in 10 years time. If all places to study nursing were filled each year, there would be a total of 13,800 additional nurses – which is 13 per cent of the total deficit
[iii] Data from The Health Foundation (A critical moment: NHS staffing trends, retention and attrition, 2019) reveals that the average attrition rate on pre-registration nursing degrees in 24 per cent. According to UCAS (Acceptances by detailed subject group and domicile, 2017) 28,091 people accepted places to study nursing, which means that 6,742 people would have dropped out
[iv] NHS Digital (2019) NHS Vacancy Statistics England – February 2015-September 2018
[v] Nursing and Midwifery Council (2019) The big picture