• United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust is anxious to see additional nursing places filled by students wishing to apply.
  • The university says the removal of the bursary has had an impact on interest in nursing courses.

A rural trust has warned university places to study nursing are not being filled despite a recent boost in national funding to expand clinical placements.

United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust’s board papers said although “additional monies had recently helped to expand registered nurse training… there has been a lack of people applying to the university”.

Chief nursing officer Ruth May recently announced funding for thousands more clinical placements delivered via money being paid directly to directors of nursing, enabling universities to create extra places and expand the overall pipeline of nurses to the NHS. 

However, UHLT said the University of Lincoln had expanded its places but “cannot fill them” due to “multiple issues”.

Martin Rayson, director of human resources and organisational development at ULHT, said the trust’s high vacancy rate for nurses was a concern.

“We cover vacant posts through the use of agency staff and whilst this ensures services are sustained, this is expensive and is impacting on our financial position,” Mr Rayson said.

Mr Rayson stressed the trust is “anxious” to see the potential increase in university places being matched by an increase in people wishing to apply.

“We are making every effort to recruit new staff and indeed, around 100 newly-qualified nurses will start at the trust in September,” he said.

George Osborne scrapped the nurse bursary in 2015 and switched funding to student loans as part of reforms to lift what he described as an artificial cap on student numbers. It was claimed the reforms would encourage an increase in the number of nursing students.

However, UCAS figures revealed the number of nursing students achieving places at English universities fell in 2017 and 2018, while at the same time the NHS has more than 40,000 nursing vacancies.

Sharon Black, director of nurse education at the University of Lincoln said there has been a “sector-wide reduction in nursing applications” after the nursing bursary was removed in 2017 and a loan-based system introduced.

Ms Black said the changes made to the loan system “significantly impacted certain groups of applications, particularly mature students”.

However, she stressed demand from students wanting to study nursing at Lincoln and employers wanting to recruit them “remains strong”. 

The university declined to provide HSJ with the numbers of places filled this year by students citing it was “commercially sensitive.”

Earlier this year NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said there needed to be a “bigger upturn” in the pipeline of new nurses and said the debate about bursaries was “black in play” as a “big question we’ve got to answer”.