One in four student nurses dropping out of degrees, says research

4 Sep 18

A quarter of all student nurses in the UK quit their degrees last year before finishing their courses, a study has revealed.

Of the 16,000 student nurses due to graduate in 2017 more than 4,000 quit their degree or suspended their studies, according to analysis by Nursing Standard magazine and the Health Foundation think-tank.

The rate of nursing student ‘attrition’ - the number of students who leave a programme of study before it has finished - has stagnated at around 24% for more than a decade, according to the research.

A Nursing Standard investigation in 2006 calculated an attrition rate of 24.8% in the UK.

The Health Foundation said that this suggested attempts to bring down the proportion of nurses not completing their students “have had little effect”.  

Ben Gershlick, senior economics analyst at the Health Foundation, said the 10-year plan for the NHS, currently being drawn up, and a workforce strategy from Health Education England needed to offer a much more “joined-up and strategic approach”.

“While the attrition rate has remained fairly constant over the last decade, its impact is becoming more severe bearing in mind the overall shortage of nurses, vacancies in nursing posts and rising demand pressures on the NHS,” he said.

“Reducing attrition should be a crucial aspect of our overall approach to workforce planning.”

The falling number of nurses was made worse by the recent fall in the inflow of nurses coming from abroad, he added. 

James Buchan, professor in the health and sciences faculty at Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University, agreed with Gershlick, saying: “Student nurse attrition has been for many years identified as a major problem for the UK, both in terms of the negative impact on individuals who leave programmes early, and also for the system at large, given nursing shortages are so prominent and increasing.”

The Health Foundation highlighted Royal College of Nursing figures, showing the number of nursing vacancies across England alone stood at 40,000 in 2017.

Reasons for student nurses quitting included bad experiences on clinical placements, financial difficulties and academic pressures, the RCN has said. 

The Health Foundation pointed out last year the government replaced NHS bursaries for student nurses with a tuition fees and loans system, which it believed was the cause of decreased numbers starting nursing training. 

Nursing Standard received data from 55 UK universities across the UK that offer nursing degrees, and the Health Foundation then analysed these figures.

Last week, NHS Improvement revealed that NHS trusts in England had spent £480m in the last year on agency staff, including doctors and nurses. 

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