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. 

Data are for foundation doctors and specialty registrars working in hospital and community health services and general practice in England. GP trainees include those on foundation year placements.

The number of foundation doctors has increased by 1,006 between December 2022 and December 2023. The number of doctors in core training or working as specialty registrars also increased by 2,980 over the same period. Meanwhile, the number of GP registrars increased by 520

A fall in the number of students starting nursing training in England 

Using the new definitions in the UCAS data, the number of applicants to nursing courses in January 2024 decreased by 270 (1%) compared to the same point in 2019 and 11,730 (32%) fewer than the peak in applications in 2021.

The number of people actually accepting a nurse training place in 2023 has fallen by 2,450 (or 11%) compared to a year prior, though this does represent a 1,020 increase relative to 2019.

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.

Past targets

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 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 July 2021 has seen an increase of 4,650 more nursing associate apprenticeship starts – meaning a total of 13,700 people having started training. Numbers starting nursing degree apprenticeships has increased by over 2,300 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.