ONE-IN-FOUR student nurses are dropping out of their degrees before graduation, according to a new investigation, adding to the ongoing NHS staffing crisis, warns the Royal College of Nursing.
With the health service struggling to cope with a massive shortage of nurses – estimated at 40,000 vacant posts in England alone – the issue of nursing student attrition has never been more pressing.
Data obtained by Nursing Standard and independent charity the Health Foundation (HF) show that of 16,544 UK nursing students who began three-year degrees due to finish in 2017, 4,027 left their courses early or suspended their studies. This gives an average attrition rate of 24% in the UK.
Figures from a Nursing Standard investigation in 2006 put the attrition rate at 24.8%, suggesting that attempts to address the issue over the last decade have had little effect. The Royal College of Nursing says bad experiences on clinical placements, financial difficulties and academic pressures all contribute to attrition.
Last year, the government replaced the NHS bursary for student nurses with a tuition fees and loans system, which experts say has affected the number of students taking up places on degree programmes.
Nursing Standard asked 74 UK universities offering nursing degrees for start and completion data for students on three-year pre-registration programmes for 2014-17. A total of 55 universities provided data, which was analysed by the Health Foundation.
Responding to the findings Anne Corrin, Head of Professional Learning and Development at the RCN, said: ‘As a new academic year begins, these figures are a stark and timely reminder of the need to properly support student nurses.
‘They must not be exploited as cheap labour. Experienced nurses must also be supported to teach students on placement and CPD (Continuing Professional Development) budgets protected.
‘Nursing is a wonderful career, but student nurses face some of the most demanding workloads of any course. This makes financial pressures of student life and placements even harder to bear. Falling student numbers and rising vacancies in our health and social care services mean addressing these issues has never been more urgent.’