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Why we need more nurses in London and how HE can help

  • 4 December 2023
  • By Emily Dixon and Jolanta Edwards
  • By Emily Dixon, Senior Research and Content Officer and Jolanta Edwards, Director of Strategy at London Higher.

This year’s UCAS deadline is fast approaching. One area of particular interest will be student applications to healthcare and nursing, where the government is keen to see increases to meet targets set in the NHS Workforce Plan. These students will go on to support an ageing population, and will operate in a fast-changing but also uncertain environment. In London, our nursing schools are considering how best to support the plan’s ambitious targets to increase nursing student numbers across all specialisms, including a targeted 92 per cent increase in adult nursing trainees.  

London has 35 NHS trusts, more than 20 nursing schools, and more than 22,000 nursing students, so the nursing sector in London is an essential part of any conversation about the future of the profession. The shortage of nurses is also particularly acute here. London has more vacant nursing positions than any other part of the UK and simultaneously, the largest population in need of medical care. Although there was a rise in nursing applications during the peak years of the Covid-19 pandemic, the most recent UCAS end-of-cycle data release shows a five per cent decrease in applications to healthcare subjects including nursing. At London Higher, through our Healthcare Education Group, we are focusing on how to reverse this trend.

If we want to increase the number of applications to nursing in London, we should start by thinking about who is already studying here. While London is a notably international study destination, its nursing students are largely from the UK. In 2021 (the most recent year for which full demographic data is available from HESA), 97 per cent of nursing students in London were domestic students. Of this domestic student population, a significant majority (67 per cent) were London residents studying in the city.  

London’s nursing student population is also largely comprised of mature learners: 85.7 per cent of domestic nursing students are classified as mature, and 57.8 per cent are over 30. Nursing has long been thought of as a profession for women, and while more men are training to be nurses than ever before, training as a nurse continues to be most popular with women. 89 per cent of registered nurses in the UK today identify as women. In London, it is also a pathway popular with learners from global majority backgrounds. HESA data tells us that 64 per cent of domestic London nursing students are of an ethnicity other than white.  

So, what does this mean for the future of the nursing profession here? Attempts to increase the student nurse population here mean that nursing schools need to dig deeper into why this profession appeals to the demographic of people already studying it, in addition to increasing their appeal to other demographics. Nursing is a valued pathway into skilled, secure employment for London’s adult, female, global majority learners, but it can be the same for a wider group of learners too. Increasing the appeal of nursing to a wider group means reaching out to other demographic groups, such as school leavers, and enticing them to look at the options and benefits of this pathway. Similarly, more can be done to encourage more men into the profession.  

This is why London Higher’s #StudyNursingLondon campaign, launched today, is looking to target school leavers, in particular. We want to encourage learners to think about the different options nursing can offer them in the capital, and we believe the voices of current student nurses are the best and most appropriate ones to tell these stories. By exposing prospective learners to the voices and experiences of current student nurses, we hope to diversify the stories learners hear about nursing and inspire them to explore a pathway that can benefit both them and London as a whole.

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