Record numbers have applied to study nursing at UK universities during the coronavirus pandemic.
The number of people applying for nursing courses has risen by almost a third (32%), according to statistics from the university admissions service.
“Inspiring stories” from wards over the past year has led to the surge, says Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant.
The government says it is “another step closer” to delivering 50,000 more nurses for the NHS.
There were 60,130 applicants for nursing by the main 29 January application deadline, the Ucas figures show.
The number of UK school-leavers opting for nursing increased by 27% from last year to a record 16,560.
And more than 10,000 people aged 35 or over have applied to study nursing for the first time this year – a rise of 39% on 2020.
Meanwhile, the figures appear to show that the number of EU applicants to all subjects at UK universities has fallen by 40% to 26,010 in the past year.
Ucas suggests uncertainty surrounding Brexit at the end of 2020 and changes to student support arrangements have contributed to the drop.
EU nationals not covered by the UK-EU withdrawal agreement will no longer be eligible for home fee status and loans for courses starting in September.
However, figures show a record 85,610 people have applied to study in the UK from countries outside the EU – a rise of 17% compared to last year.
Ucas also said the latest statistics showed that a growing number of 18 year olds from the most disadvantaged areas in the UK have applied to university.
The largest proportional increase in UK applicants by their declared ethnic group came from black and mixed race students – both up 15% to 40,690 and 25,830 respectively.
Overall, a record 42.6% of all UK 18 year olds had applied to university by the main deadline last month, up from 39.5% at the same point last year.
Ms Marchant said: “The amazing work of our NHS continues to inspire people of all ages into fulfilling and rewarding careers, helping those in most need as we emerge from the pandemic. Overall, applications are buoyant as students plan their futures for life after lockdown.”
The Royal College of Nursing has previously warned there is a widespread nursing shortage across the NHS – which could lead to staff burnout.
A report by the Health Foundation released in December said the impact of Covid has brought the “urgent need” to deal with the shortage into “sharp focus”.
Speaking about the Ucas figures, director for England at the Royal College of Nursing Mike Adams said: “This is a welcome boost in applications but follows a number of years of decline since the removal of government support for tuition fees and living costs.”
He warned that the increase in applications is “still not at the scale that is needed” and said greater efforts are needed to fill thousands of vacant nursing jobs.
The government has committed to adding 50,000 more nurses to the NHS workforce by 2025.
Last year, it introduced bursaries of at least £5,000 per year for nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students.
Care Minister Helen Whately said: “These figures are a testament to the work of Health Education England and Ucas in highlighting nursing as a rewarding and accessible career path, as well as the remarkable achievements of all health and care professionals over the past year.
“We’re another step closer to delivering 50,000 more nurses for our NHS and providing better healthcare for everyone.”
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