RECORD numbers of prospective students are applying for nursing degrees, seemingly inspired by the courageous efforts of the NHS throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

The number of applications for nursing courses at UK universities has surged by almost a third (32 per cent), statistics from the university admissions service show.

Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said “inspiring stories” from wards over the past year has led to more people wanting to pursue a career in nursing.

The latest Ucas figures – which show the numbers applying to start undergraduate courses by the main January 29 application deadline – reveal that the number of applicants for nursing rose to 60,130.

There have been rises in each age group, with the number of UK school-leavers opting for nursing increasing by 27 per cent from last year to a record 16,560.

Meanwhile, more than 10,000 mature students aged 35 or over have applied to study nursing for the first time this year, which is a rise of 39 per cent on 2020.

Ms Marchant said: “The inspiring stories from wards across the country over the past year has undoubtedly led to more people wanting to become our nurses of the future.

“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.

“We expect offer rates to remain at the high levels of recent years as universities and colleges have several months to plan and be flexible to accommodate the increase in applicants.”

Mike Adams, director for England at the Royal College of Nursing, added: “Today’s nursing staff are clearly inspiring those of the future.

"Their professionalism and dedication in the last 12 months has clearly encouraged even more people determined to join a diverse and fulfilling career.

“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.”

However, Mr Adams warned the boost is “still not at the scale that is needed” and he said greater efforts are needed to fill thousands of vacant nursing jobs.

He called for nursing students to be given full tuition funding and living cost support to ensure they are not “forced to leave” courses due to financial pressures.

Ruth May, chief nursing officer for NHS England, said: “The so-called ‘Nightingale effect’ has seen interest in the NHS trumping lots of other careers and that speaks volumes about how people recognise our profession, particularly following our most challenging year.

“The NHS has run the biggest recruitment drive in our history through our ‘We are the NHS campaign’, while we hear time and again how inspired people have been by the extraordinary efforts of nurses and other colleagues in the Covid response this year."

Last year, the Government introduced bursaries of at least £5,000 per year for all nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students.

This came three years after scrapping NHS bursaries for student healthcare professionals and replaced them with tuition fees and loans, which led to a drop in applications of almost a quarter.

Minister for care 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.”

Ucas said the latest data also showed that a growing number of 18 year olds from the most disadvantaged areas in the UK have applied to university.

Overall, a record 42.6 per cent of all UK 18 year olds had applied to university by the main deadline last month, up from 39.5 per cent at the same point last year.