Up to one in three nursing students may be quitting their course before qualification, according to the Royal College of Nursing, writes Julia Hinde.
At their annual congress in Bournemouth this week nurses heard that the current nursing shortage is set to worsen as many older nurses retire over the next decade.
Craig Kirby, executive member for the South of England on the Association of Nursing Students, told the meeting that more information is needed on nursing drop-outs from university diploma and degree courses.
"There is some information but it is uncoordinated and local," said Mr Kirby. "We want research so we can look at the extent of the real problem."
The Royal College of Nursing cites Scottish Office data showing that up to one in three students drop out during their three-year pre-registration course. It adds that statistics available currently from England, Wales and Northern Ireland seem to mirror this.
Mr Kirby said that until now the RCN had estimated that a quarter of nursing students do not finish their courses.
"It's a big problem," Mr Kirby added. "We need to know why nurses are leaving so we can support universities creating a positive strategy and keeping students."
He suggested that the reasons for high levels of drop-outs include financial hardship and broader problems associated with the National Health Service. There could also be problems with a lack of academic and pastoral support.
The congress backed a resolution calling for more research by the Royal College of Nursing to quantify, address and then tackle the problem.
* Increasing numbers of nurses are registering and then leaving the health service, says the Royal College of Nurses.
Of those who first registered in 1990, 96 per cent were still in the NHS in the second year after registration, but only 86 per cent of those who registered in 1995 were still in the NHS two years later.