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Figures show English students applying to nursing and midwifery courses at British universities have fallen by 23% since the scrap of NHS bursaries.
While the drop was largest among applicants in England, there was also an 11% fall in those from Wales, 7% from Scotland and 4% from Northern Ireland.
Ministers previously said replacing bursaries with loans will free up to £800 million a year and create extra nursing posts by 2020.
Nursing leaders have said the figures confirmed their ‘worst fears’.
Janet Davies, the General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said: “We warned the Government the removal of student funding would see a sharp drop in nursing applications. These figures confirm our worst fears.
“The nursing workforce is in crisis and if fewer nurses graduate in 2020, it will exacerbate what is already an unsustainable situation.
“The outlook is bleak – fewer EU nurses are coming to work in the UK following the Brexit vote, and by 2020 nearly half the workforce will be eligible for retirement.
“With 24,000 nursing vacancies in the UK, the Government needs to take immediate action to encourage more applicants by reinstating student funding and investing in student education.
“The future of nursing, and the NHS, is in jeopardy.”
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