Data from UCAS show an 8% increase in the number of students accepted to nursing courses across the UK, with the biggest increase seen in placements in England

Student nurse

A total of 27,730 students have been accepted onto UK nursing courses in 2021, according to the latest data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)—the highest in a decade.

Nursing course acceptances across the UK increased 8% in 2021 compared with 2020, and 22% over 2019. Figures for England were up year on year, while course acceptance rates for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland were on par with 2020.

The majority of accepted nursing course placements in 2021 were in England (20,240, up 11% from 2020), followed by Scotland (3550, level with 2020), Wales (1410, up 1%), and Northern Ireland (1060, down 1%). There were also 480 placements accepted internationally by UK residents, down 2% from 2020.

Record acceptances, but ‘significant shortages’

Responding to the UCAS figures, Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, commented on Twitter: ‘[The 2021] A-level stats show a record number of acceptances for nursing, midwifery, medicine and dentistry courses. Well done to all the students.

‘The dedication healthcare professionals have shown during the pandemic has clearly inspired the next generation in our health service.’

Meanwhile, Patricia Marquis, Royal College of Nursing England Director, said: ‘This latest increase in acceptances to nursing courses is encouraging and is no doubt a result of the high profile and professionalism of nursing staff during the pandemic.

‘But record numbers of acceptances does not equate to record numbers of nurses entering the workforce, as many of these students won’t qualify until 2024 and beyond. There are already significant staff shortages in nursing and it is clear acceptance numbers are still not keeping pace with vacancies.

‘Pressures of the pandemic have also left nursing staff exhausted. This not only puts patient care at risk but means students risk not completing their studies and entering the workforce.

‘Ministers must reverse the 3% pay deal if we are to discourage many from abandoning the profession, leaving future nurses without the expert teaching they need.’