THE number of student nurses at Southend Hospital is less than a third of what it was two years ago, it has emerged.

The hospital revealed it had seen a reduction of student numbers in 2017 and only received 38 in its last intake when it expected at least 60.

Unions are blaming the Government for axing the student nurse bursary two years ago, leaving students having to find ways to fund their own degrees.

Higher education institutions in mid and south Essex have seen a 30 per cent reduction in the number of individuals commencing pre-registration nursing programme while the Royal College of Nursing also reports applications to nursing degree courses have plummeted by a third in England.

It comes as the Echo revealed high nurse vacancy rates in Mid and south Essex hospitals last week. Denise Townsend, Director of Nursing at Southend Hospital, said: “We, in common with trusts across the country, have experienced a reduction in the number of student nurses being allocated to our hospital as part of their university courses.

“While student nurses are not included in the establishment numbers for ward nurses, we appreciate that the reduction could mean there may be fewer newly qualified nurses applying for vacant posts.

“However, we have 72 health care support workers undertaking apprenticeships from health care support worker level 3 to the Nursing Degree Apprenticeship programme, with a further 30 to commence in the autumn, as part of our ‘grow our own’ campaign.”

Sam Older, Unison Eastern regional organiser said: “The drop in numbers training to be a nurse is deeply worrying but also grimly inevitable. Since the Tories scrapped the bursary, numbers applying for nursing courses have dropped by a third – people just can’t afford to shoulder massive levels of debt to find a job.”

Sir David Amess, Tory MP for Southend West, added: “I am deeply worried about the drop in nursing registration. I have asked the hospital management what action they are taking and I shall raise the issue in the Commons.”

James Duddridge, Tory MP for Rochford and Southend East, said: “Student loans are a more generous and effective system as students without dependents can receive as much as £9,256 per year, whereas under the NHS-funded bursary system they would receive under £7,000.”