Chief nursing officer for England Ruth May is urging pupils going through clearing to sign up for the profession, as the NHS seeks to push it as a “strong career choice in uncertain times”.
The recruitment drive comes after the Government announced £172 million in funding to boost nursing apprenticeships to 2,000 a year as another route into the profession.
While nursing unions have welcomed the move, they say it does not go far enough and are calling for better pay, and for tuition fees for all nursing students to be scrapped.
NHS England figures show there were 220 nursing, midwifery and health visitor vacancies at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust at the end of March, the latest period for which data is available.
There were another 84 nursing, midwifery and health visitor vacancies at North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust in the same period.
They were among 3,166 unfilled roles across the East of England.
According to the NHS, applications for nursing degrees surged 16 per cent year-on-year to 47,320 by the end of June, with a “huge increase” in interest from those aged 20 and under during the pandemic.
The number of nurses in the NHS in England increased by 13,840 compared to last year, and the number of doctors has risen by 9,306, figures published today up until the end of May show.
All professionally qualified clinical staff, doctors, paramedics and support to clinical staff are now at record levels.
Ms May said nurses have played a leading role in the fight against the coronavirus.
She added: “Uncertain times lie ahead, but one thing we can be sure of is that the country and the NHS will always need nurses, and that nursing will always offer a rewarding and varied career – making it a strong choice for any young people considering their options tomorrow.”
In a statement, NHS England said: “While levels of appreciation amongst the public are sky-high, the health service is calling on young adults – dubbed the ‘Covid generation’ due to the long-term impact the virus is likely to have on their lives – to not just clap for carers, but to become one.”
The Government said its £172 million package will enable healthcare employers to take up to 2,000 apprentices every year – double the current number – for the next four years, which it says will help deliver 50,000 more nurses by 2024-25.
Employers will get £8,300 per placement per year for both new and existing apprenticeships, which generally take four years and offer an alternative to university courses.
Mike Adams, the Royal College of Nursing’s director for England, said the investment was a “welcome step”.
“It does, however, fall short of the wider investment needed to educate enough registered nurses for the future, ensuring health and care services have the staff needed,” he added.
“The full-time three-year nursing degree remains the best way to increase domestic nursing supply at the scale and pace needed.
“The Government must abolish self-funded tuition fees for all nursing students as well as introducing universal living maintenance grants that reflect actual student need if it is truly committed to delivering the 50,000 more nurses they promised.”
Unison’s deputy head of health Helga Pile said a fair and consistent wage for nurses was also “essential”.
She added: “Unless this is sorted urgently, the NHS will struggle to attract apprentices in the first place.”
Responding to this week’s latest NHS workforce statistics, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “It is fantastic to see we have record numbers of staff working in our NHS, and as set out last month in the NHS People Plan, we must strive to make the NHS the best possible place to work for all. This will help us retain more of our hardworking staff and ensure the NHS can continue to protect us, as we protected it throughout the peak of this pandemic.
“With the latest UCAS figures already showing a 14 per cent rise in people accepting places on nursing courses in England, we are well on our way to delivering 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament.
“We have protected the NHS, and we are investing record sums into the NHS, hiring more doctors and nurses so that the NHS is always there for you and your family.”
Following A Level results last week, the latest UCAS statics revealed a 14 per cent rise in acceptances for nursing and midwifery courses in England, with many more expected during clearing.
Last month the NHS People Plan set out how the NHS will put staff wellbeing at its heart with a new recruitment, retention and support package. It sets out practical support for wellbeing such as safe spaces to rest and recuperate, wellbeing guardians and support to keep staff physically safe and healthy.
The figures for May include some former healthcare professionals who bravely volunteered to return to the frontline during the pandemic. May figures also show that 592 returners were identified, of which, there are 102 doctors and 157 nurses and health visitors. Not all returners are reflected in the monthly workforce statistics as they could have been employed on Fixed Term, Honorary or Bank contracts, or via NHS Professionals.