NHS grows its nursing workforce with UCAS' unique student insight

NHS develops detailed insights into nursing candidates with UCAS, to inform a comprehensive campaign speaking to the next generation of nurses

Case study: NHS

Industry: Healthcare / public sector

Products/services used: data / bespoke research, campaigns (email, targeted social videos, Facebook live event), display advertising across ucas.com

Results: nursing applicant insights, a dynamic multi-channel strategy speaking to potential future nurses, leading to an increase in nursing searches and applicants

Since 2019, UCAS and NHS England have combined forces to grow the nursing workforce

After the pandemic, we needed to take this partnership to another level.

NHS England gave UCAS a huge challenge

Falling application numbers for nursing careers

The pandemic demonstrated, like never before, how much we value the NHS, and especially front line nurses. But the problems were falling application numbers and awareness of nursing careers, coupled with long-term difficulty gaining insight into this audience.

Media coverage also starkly laid bare the job's realities

This made it even harder to recruit nursing applicants. At the time of the project there were 39,000+ nursing vacancies and a lack of applicants cost the NHS up to £90 million in freelance nursing costs annually.

"As registered nurses for the NHS, it’s been a real pleasure to be a part of this joint work with UCAS. This report gives us valuable insights into our nurses of the future – who they are, what they believe and their motivations for choosing this worthwhile profession that we’ve been proud to call our own for so long.

The insights from this work will support us, and our partners in the health and care system, to continue to build a nursing workforce that is highly skilled, critically thinking, and with the right values. Capturing the views of those starting out in their nursing career is crucial to this because they are the future of this profession."

Dr Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England & Professor Mark Radford CBE, Chief Nurse, Health Education England, and Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for England


Campaign overview

Our unique relationship with students helped uncover nursing applicants’ deepest motivations and barriers

Over 1 million people come to us every year to find their future in further education and their journey into work. As a charity, with a completely neutral and unbiased position, we only focus on optimum outcomes for students. As such we enjoy unrivalled access and unparalleled trust among this key audience.

The findings drove a comprehensive campaign, where we spoke directly to the next generation of nurses

We did this through email, display, social, physical events and live broadcasts.

The campaign maximised our scale to reach them, leveraged our trust to engage them, and empowered them to follow their career goals.

Some examples of how the findings informed the campaign activity include:

We knew Mental Health nursing candidates needed specific focus, so included 1st year Mental Health nurses on each Facebook live panel. We noticed South West NHS had a net loss of talent, decreasing supply. We remedied this in our targeting, and arranged discussions with SW HEE, the NHS, and universities to find solutions.
The findings of the research helped create a highly targeted and creatively dynamic multi-channel strategy speaking directly to potential ‘future nurses’, empowering them to follow their career goals.
70% increase in ‘Nursing’ searches vs. the previous year
30% increase in nursing applicants vs. the previous year
The campaign costs represent astonishing performance, return on investment and value for money for NHS England

The increases in nursing applicants will flow through into £millions saved in freelance nursing costs. Money that can be invested where it is really needed, getting more nurses onto the front line. Subsequently, UCAS has undertaken more bespoke and targeted campaign work through the regional NHS Trusts, to address regional challenges in supply.


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