The Covid pandemic has inspired record numbers of people to become nurses, with more than 56,000 signing up to nursing courses or apprenticeships in England since the outbreak in early 2020, according to a report.
Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) show that more 18-year-old school leavers are applying for and accepting places to study nursing than before the pandemic, with applications up by 38% since 2019, while applications from those over the age of 21 have also risen by more than a third.
The report by Ucas and Health Education England found that 69% of recent applicants said the Covid pandemic had inspired them to apply to become a nurse, with around one in 10 saying the pandemic was the most important factor in their decision. One in four applicants said the current high profile of healthcare workers was a significant influence on their decision.
Ruth May, the chief nursing officer for NHS England, said she was thrilled by the record number of applications. “The last couple of years, difficult as they have been, have shone a spotlight on the value of our nursing profession and the rewarding careers on offer in every corner of the NHS,” she said.
Clare Marchant, the chief executive of Ucas, said she expected that the increased demand for places on nursing courses would continue before next week’s deadline for applications to courses starting in autumn.
“It is heartening to see that one of the positive legacies of the work of our incredible healthcare workers during the pandemic is that more of our young people have been inspired to enter the nursing profession, particularly when they are arguably the ones who have been most affected, both in terms of their education and way of life,” Marchant said.
Nursing is now the fifth most popular subject studied at higher education in England, having recovered from a fall in applications that followed the government’s removal of bursary funding in 2017. In 2021, 25,000 students were accepted on to nursing programmes.
The report also identified nursing careers as boosting social mobility in the UK, with nursing alongside education and health and social care courses as the only subjects where more young people from the most disadvantaged areas choose to study nursing than their most advantaged counterparts.
But the report also showed a continuing gender gap in the profession, with women nine times more likely to choose and be placed on nursing courses than men.