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Volume 621: debated on Tuesday 7 February 2017

Developing a variety of routes into nursing is a priority to widen participation and reflect the local populations served by nurses. That is why we have developed a new nursing associate role and nursing degree apprenticeships, which are opening up routes into the registered nursing profession for thousands of people from all backgrounds and allowing employers to grow their own workforce locally.

Are there any plans to roll out the associate role to include Wiltshire, and to enable the new nursing degree apprenticeship schemes to be offered in larger further education colleges so that counties like Wiltshire that have no university can still make that provision?

We have announced the first 1,000 nursing associates. In fact, the first cohort commenced at the beginning of this month. I visited, in Queen’s hospital, Romford, the first very enthusiastic group of nursing associates. We have announced a second wave of 2,000 associate roles. I regret to say that Wiltshire does not have any of those at the moment, but that will not stop it bidding for them in future. I will look at my hon. Friend’s point about further education colleges.

When the Secretary of State scrapped the nursing bursary, he claimed that his reforms would lead to an increase in nursing applications. Last week, figures from UCAS showed that there had been a drop in nursing applications of 23%—a worrying trend when the demands of Brexit will mean that we need more home-grown nurses. Will he scrap this disastrous policy or, at the very least, give Greater Manchester the ability to opt out of it and reinstate the nursing bursary?

I urge the right hon. Gentleman not to indulge in scaremongering about the number of people applying to become nurses. There are more than two applications for each of the nursing places on offer to start next August. He needs to be careful about interpreting this early the figure for applications from EU nationals, which has gone down significantly, because it coincided with the introduction of the language test for EU nationals.

With the reduction of 23% in applications to English nursing schools, the Minister might want to re-look at the policy. There has been a significant drop—a 90% drop—in EU nationals applying. With one in 10 nursing posts in NHS England vacant and a cap on agency spend, who exactly does the Minister think should staff the NHS?

I say gently to the hon. Lady that there are 51,000 nurses in training at present. The number of applications through the UCAS system thus far suggests that there will be more than two applicants for each place. As I have just said to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the reduction in application forms requested by EU nationals has coincided with the introduction of a language test.

Language test applications were more than 3,500 last January, so the reduction after the language test was from that to 1,300. In December, there were only 101 applications. This cannot all be blamed on the language test, so what is the Minister going to do to protect nursing numbers?

There are over 13,000 more nurses working in the NHS today than there were in May 2010. As I have just said to the hon. Lady, the language test came into effect from July last year, since when the number of applicants has been somewhat steady. It is down very significantly, but that is because, frankly, we have had applications from nurses from EU countries who have not been able to pass the language test.