July 14, 2024

Holistic Pulse

Healthcare is more important

‘The decline in mature student numbers is a critical blow to the healthcare sector’

4 min read

I am a mature student, and we face many challenges on our student journey as student nurses.

Nonetheless, we are very much inspired to become professional nurses, and we had a plethora of sacrifices made just to begin our path to becoming qualified nurses.

“Most older students might be able to share their life experiences and skills, which is important in healthcare, unlike other professionals”

Soneika Atkinson

For healthcare, nursing professionals have vital functions that cannot be underestimated. They are the core pillars of every healthcare system that stand upon them and provide the main care to the patients in different treatment places.

However, recent data from the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has revealed a concerning trend: coincided with an overwhelming drop of prospective mature student nurses in England.

It is a dire warning signal that the healthcare personnel are deprived of their livelihood, which may lead to unsafe patient care.

Data published by the UCAS on February 15 2024 shows an 11 % drop within the last year for the applications of UK mature students in nursing degrees offered by providers of education in England.

This downward trend is alarming because of the historical fact that many individuals had a second career in nursing and these individuals hold diverse skills and experience.

This quick and pronounced descent reveals the increasing unwillingness of mature people to choose nursing as their profession, arousing several serious questions about a future balance in the nursing workforce sector.

This reduction has wide-ranging and multi-dimensional effects. First and foremost, it is a direct competitive threat that may undermine the sustainability of the National Health Service, England.

With fewer mature students entering higher education in nursing programmes, this gap in availability is likely to be exacerbated, which currently stands at a vacancy rate of 10.3% in the NHS.

In addition, this issue also weakens initiatives that have been set out to achieve diversity and inclusiveness in the medical field.

Most older students might be able to share their life experiences and skills, which is important in healthcare, unlike other professionals.

Through this lack of ability to attract and retain mature people, professional risks are more likely to be less representative of the population they care for, hindering their efforts to address the diverse patient needs.

Moreover, the decline in mature student numbers is also a critical blow to the healthcare sector’s maintenance of its labour force and succession.

In the case when experienced nurses retire or leave their profession, there is a serious necessity that is aimed at the replenishment of the workforce with competent and qualified people.

Nevertheless, fewer mature students joining nursing programmes may leave a gap in hiring staff to handle critical positions in continuous care delivery.

Immediate responses and focused actions are necessitated to tackle this problem. The budget on 6 March offers just the right window of opportunity for the UK government to immediately incorporate an intervention strategy to tackle the dwindling supply of mature students in nursing school programmes. These actions must be factored into future research topics.

Since the number of mature student applications for nursing degrees decreases, it is expectedly important to introduce a flexible nursing programme concerning work hours.

By providing mature students with the opportunity to select placements that match their personal and professional schedules alongside guaranteeing the acquisition of practical clinical experience in real healthcare settings, the needs of the students will be met.

Similarly, flexible classroom-based learning options can be utilised, such as blended learning that combines lectures and online courses in one, and targets the diverse learning individual preferences and styles of mature students.

In addition, working in collaboration with local healthcare institutions to give training places nearer to the students’ residences will benefit those who have difficulties with travelling and those who can’t travel because of child care and financial considerations.

Moreover, combining online simulation practice in nursing curricula is another way to train students to develop clinical skills in a safe and controlled environment.

Implementing those provisions in nursing school programs is likely to make the studying environment more inclusive and favourable for mature students and, on the other hand, improve the quality of healthcare human resources and the services provided to patients.

Stressing the feasibility, availability, and support, job opportunities in mature individuals can be assured to pursue exciting careers as nurses and hence give service of high-quality approvals in the healthcare service sector.

Soneika Atkinson is a final-year mental health nurse student at the University of Essex and former Nursing Times student editor

More student blogs by Soneika

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