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Tory peer blasts ‘scandalous’ rejection of would-be nursing students

Former cabinet minister Lord Lilley condemns ‘rationing’ of university places as 35,000 potential nursing students are turned away amid unfilled NHS vacancies
Lord Lilley speaking in the House of Lords

Former cabinet minister Lord Lilley condemns ‘rationing’ of university places as 35,000 potential nursing students are turned away amid unfilled NHS vacancies

A Tory peer has called the rejection of 35,000 potential nursing students a ‘scandal’ as the NHS faces 40,000 unfilled vacancies .

In a debate in the House of Lords on a staffing survey by the RCN , former Cabinet minister Lord Peter Lilley said the recruitment of overseas nurses from poorer countries with their own nurse shortages was

Former cabinet minister Lord Lilley condemns ‘rationing’ of university places as 35,000 potential nursing students are turned away amid unfilled NHS vacancies

Lord Lilley speaking in the House of Lords
Lord Lilley speaking in the House of Lords Picture: Parliament TV

A Tory peer has called the rejection of 35,000 potential nursing students a ‘scandal’ as the NHS faces 40,000 unfilled vacancies.

In a debate in the House of Lords on a staffing survey by the RCN, former Cabinet minister Lord Peter Lilley said the recruitment of overseas nurses from poorer countries with their own nurse shortages was ‘immoral and wrong,’ while thousands of potential trainees from the UK are being turned away.

Lord Lilley, who as an MP served in the Cabinets of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, said: ‘The alternative surely is to train our own nurses, more of them. We turned away 26,000 British applicants from nursing courses in (2020), a far higher number than any other training or qualification area.

‘Why are we rationing places in our universities and turning away people who want to be nurses, who we need as nurses, blighting their prospective careers and making them do something else instead? It’s a scandal.’

Nursing courses had acceptance rate of only 51.7%, against UCAS average of 75%

Latest University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) figures show 73,085 people applied for nursing courses in 2021, but only 37,805 were offered places, meaning that 35,280 potential nurses were rejected. In 2020 the number turned away from courses was 25,290.

Though a proportion of applicants may not have met entry requirements, nursing courses had an acceptance rate of 51.7%, much lower than the UCAS average of 75% for all courses.

Lord Lilley, who said he had supported the switch from bursaries to student loans as he believed it would offer more places, said a vast resource of potential domestic nurses is being overlooked.

But Bishop of London Sarah Mullally said that with staffing levels so inadequate only a limited number of training places could be offered for new recruits.

‘The truth is that one of the limiting factors is that our wards are not properly staffed today,’ she said. ‘It is hard to support and train nurses when the dependency of the patients is higher than the skill mix provided, and it is right that nurses are concerned about this.’

As well as student recruitment, both Bishop Mulally and Liberal democrat peer Baroness Claire Tyler, who instigated the debate, listed some changes they said would help improve retention, including raising the payment per mile travelled for community nurses.

Proposals to improve nurse retention put forward in the Lords debate

Their proposals also included:

  • Somewhere to rest during or after a shift.
  • Hot food and drinks available through the night when catering services are closed.
  • Someone to speak to in a non-judgemental way after difficult cases.
  • Flexibility around work rotas.
  • Ensuring leave can be taken.
  • Not having pay extortionate car parking fees.
  • A realistic pay rise.
  • Opportunities for career and pay progression.
  • Funds for clinical supervision.

A spokesperson for UCAS said: ‘Each year, around 20,000 aspiring nurses are unplaced – these students are more likely to be aged 21 and above and at the lower end of the attainment spectrum, demonstrating the competitiveness of the subject. Around 3,000 will reapply.’


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