How many medical and nursing training places are there?
The training of new staff is crucial to the NHS, helping it replace those leaving, meet increasing demand and cover vacancies. In England, at any one time there are in the region of 200,000 students in training and education to become clinicians and junior doctors in postgraduate medical education.
The number of foundation doctors has decreased by over 2,700 between June 2020 and 2021. However, June 2020 reported an unusually high level of junior doctors, which was likely to be due to medical students taking up temporary contracts. In contrast, the number of specialty registrars increased by over 3,300 over the same period. The number of GP registrars has remained fairly stagnant until recently where numbers increased by 1,065 between June 2020 and June 2021.
Monitoring medical recruitment is essential to ensure that posts for different specialties are being filled. Core psychiatry has seen an increase in the rate of places filled between 2017 and 2020 (from 64.6% to 100%), as has paediatrics, with an increase of 8.75 percentage points over the same period. The number of GP posts has increased, with all posts being filled in the most recent recruitment round.
About the target: In 2016, the GP Forward View detailed the plan to increase GP training capacity and increased recruitment to 3,250 additional doctors in general practice a year until 2020. This is reflected in the target number of training posts they are recruiting to in the graph above.
The number of people taking on a career in nursing has been a cause for concern in recent years, with the data showing a 32% decrease (equivalent to over 33,000 applicants) between 2016-17 and 2018-19. This increased by 16.4% for the 2020-21 intake (equivalent to 11,730 applicants). The number of people actually starting training has increased by 7,175 since 2018-19.
More recently, applications to nursing for the 2021-22 intake saw an increase of 22,310 applications from the previous year.
Student bursaries for nursing were removed before the 2017-18 intake, but in December 2019 the government introduced new maintenance grants for nursing students to support living costs, which came into effect in September 2020.
The NHS Long Term Plan reiterated the bold ambitions for apprenticeships, suggesting that 7,500 new nursing associates would start in 2019 (a 50% increase on the ambition for 5,000 starting in 2018, though the delivery date for the target was later changed to March 2020). The data available shows that the numbers who have started were not enough to meet the combined target of 12,500 nursing associate apprentices starting training by March 2020, with just over 9,000 having started as of March last year.
However, the most recent data from June 2021 has seen an increase of nearly 4,550 more nursing associate apprenticeship starts – meaning a total of 13,600 people having started training. Numbers starting nursing degree apprenticeships have increased by nearly 2,200 over the same period.
About the target: Following the Health Education England target of recruiting 5,000 trainee nursing associates in 2018, there was a further ambition to recruit 7,500 additional nursing associates by March 2020.