Government plans to boost the number of trainee nurses are failing - with Ucas figures revealing a second decline in applications this year, nursing leaders have warned.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that five years after the Francis Report blamed unsafe nurse levels for poor care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, the Government has "squandered" the opportunity to address the issue.
It warned that without better incentives to attract new nurses, similar care failings will become more likely.
Calling for a national recruitment campaign, the RCN said its analysis shows 700 fewer students began training last year after the overhaul of nurse education, and the latest Ucas figures show the number is continuing to fall this year.
Last year, ministers repeatedly announced extra nurse training places but they are not finding enough students to fill them, the trade union said.
It described the nursing workforce as "shrinking," with at least 40,000 vacancies in England's NHS.
The RCN's report said it found the current number of applications for the next academic year has fallen by a third (33%) since the same point in 2016 - 43,720 down to 29,390 and by 4,310 (13%) on last year alone.
In addition to the university student shortages, the new nursing apprenticeship attracted only 30 trainees against a Government ambition of 1,000 apprentices this year.
The RCN said Brexit is an added incentive for Britain to train its own nurses and rely less on expensive and challenging international recruitment.
It said nurse students need to apply before the summer in order to boost the numbers joining England's nursing workforce in 2021.
The RCN's chief executive Janet Davies (pictured) said it is also calling for a central funding pot to be created within the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to cover means-tested grants and allow for tuition write-off to incentivise students.
It also wants to see greater incentives for graduates of other subjects and those already working in the NHS to convert to nursing in post-graduate programmes, and for the Treasury and DHSC to cover the cost of the apprenticeship model to encourage greater uptake by NHS employers who deliver the course.
It also wants a comprehensive and long-term workforce strategy to be developed by Health Education England (HEE) with a methodology to determine true population demand on health and care services, and for safe staffing levels and accountability for planning and provision set in legislation in all UK nations.
Ms Davies said: "Nursing is a wonderful career, but the Government must do more to make it attractive to the tens of thousands of new nurses we need. If Ministers fail, they are storing up unimaginable problems for the future. The staffing crisis must be stopped from spiralling further.
"Extra university places are only worthwhile if they are filled and the NHS gets a newly trained nurse. When it is haemorrhaging so many experienced people, this has never been more important.
"Five years after the warnings and lessons in the Mid Staffs report, the Government is still squandering the chance to address the issue - making care failings more likely, not less. The Government knows that when there aren't enough nurses, patients can pay the very highest price."
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: "Our priority is getting more nurses on our wards, which is why we have increased the number of nurse training places available by 25%, allowing more people to study nursing than ever before.
"Any decrease in the number of applications must be seen in the context of this significant increase in the number of nursing places available - and places remain oversubscribed."
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