One in four UK student nurses drops out of degree course

Data from 55 institutions suggest efforts to improve retention have had little effect

September 3, 2018
Nurses looking at chart
Source: iStock

Efforts to curb high dropout rates on nursing courses in the UK are failing, experts have warned, with new figures revealing that one in four student nurses is failing to graduate.

Some 40,000 nursing posts remain unfilled in England alone, according to the Royal College of Nursing, fuelling concerns over an ongoing NHS recruitment crisis across the country.

Data obtained by Nursing Standard magazine and independent charity the Health Foundation show that, of the 16,544 nursing students due to finish their three-year courses in 2017, around a quarter (4,027) suspended their studies early, an average attrition rate of 24 per cent.

A previous investigation from 2006 found a dropout rate of 24.8 per cent, suggesting that attempts to address the problem over the following decade have had little success.

Ben Gershlick, senior economics analyst at the Health Foundation, said that the impact of lost students was of increasing concern, given that even fewer students enrolled in nursing degrees for the current academic year.

“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. “The need for nurses trained in the UK has also increased as we have seen a recent fall in the inflow of nurses coming from abroad.”

The RCN blamed financial difficulties alongside academic pressure and the tough nature of clinical placements for the stubbornly high dropout rate.

A decision to scrap the NHS bursary last year in favour of charging tuition fees to student nurses is also said to have affected the number of people taking up places on degree programmes.

“Reducing attrition should be a crucial aspect of our overall approach to workforce planning,” said Mr Gershlick. “The long-term plan for the health service, which is currently in development, and the workforce strategy expected from Health Education England, need to bring a much more joined-up and strategic approach.”

A total of 55 UK universities responded to the Nursing Standard and Health Foundation survey. Each offered three-year nursing degrees with a completion date of 2017.

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