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Higher education providers have been handed a further three weeks to fill nursing and midwifery course places, as well as the option to increase numbers.
The move to extend the date for course applications, announced by the government on Monday afternoon, comes just hours ahead of the previous deadline of 30 June.
“We have seen huge demand from universities for the additional places we’ve made available on nursing, midwifery or allied health courses”
In a statement released today ministers that “even more” students would be to apply for places on nursing, midwifery or allied health professional courses in England due to “unprecedented demand”.
On 4 May, the government offered to fund increases in places on nursing, midwifery, and allied health courses in England by up to 5,000 this year, if required, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government said today that it had now agreed to extend the timetable for universities to apply for the extra places to Friday 17 July, and to cover additional bids over the initial 5,000.
The statement from the Department of Health and Social Care said that “large numbers of students are applying to study healthcare courses”.
It added that, so far, “significant demand” for additional places was being seen across a range of courses including adult, mental health and learning disability nursing, and also midwifery.
The move follows latest official figures published last week that revealed applications to study nursing in the UK were up 6% compared with the last academic year.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) data showed 45,430 people had applied to a nurse degree by the 2020 January deadline, a rise from 43,630 by the same point in 2019.
Vacancies remained on courses for all nursing specialisms, with the previous final deadline of the end of June fast approaching, noted UCAS.
However, the government said today that universities had “indicated that there is more demand for places”.
“This extension will give them more time and allow them to bid with the confidence that there will be clinical placement capacity,” it said.
Higher education providers that want to bid for additional healthcare places can now do so up until 5pm on 17 July, noted the statement.
The recent UCAS figures suggested interest in nursing was slowly picking back up in the wake of the damage caused by the cut of student nurse bursaries in England.
“This pandemic has demonstrated just how important our healthcare professionals are”
In 2016, the last year the government covered tuition fees for nursing students in the country, 66,730 people applied to study nursing in the UK.
However, applicants fell dramatically to 54,985 in 2017, and again to 50,805 in 2018, before the trend reversed in 2019 when 54,225 people sought to join a nursing course.
The government has recently performed a partial u-turn on its decision to scrap financial support for student nurses in England by offering maintenance grants to those starting in 2020.
However, these students will still have to take out a loan for their tuition fees, while those studying in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales get their education for free.
The government statement also referred again to the number of full-time equivalent nurses working in the NHS in England having increased by more than 12,000 over the past year.
According the latest NHS workforce stats, over the last year, from March 2019 to March 2020, the number of full-time equivalent nurses has gone up by 12,131, from 282,422 to 294,553.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “Following the fantastic news last Thursday that we have over 12,000 more nurses working in our NHS compared to last year, we have seen huge demand from universities for the additional places we’ve made available on nursing, midwifery or allied health courses.
“This pandemic has demonstrated just how important our healthcare professionals are, and the demand for places shows that there are thousands of prospective students looking to train for rewarding careers in our NHS.”
The government has previously set am ambitious target of delivering 50,000 more nurses by end of the parliament, a pledge first announced in the Conservative manifesto prior to the general election.