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 262 nursing, midwifery and health visitor vacancies at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust at the end of March, the latest period for which data is available.
They were among 4,791 unfilled roles across the North West.
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.
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.”