The number of degree places for student nurses, midwives and paramedics will increase for the ninth year in a row, the Scottish Government has said.
A total of 4,449 students will be able to study nursing and midwifery in the next academic year, up 243 places (5.8%) from 2020-21.
The recommended intake for mental health nursing courses will also be increased, up 13% to 740 places.
Tuition is free for Scottish-domiciled nursing and midwifery students, who also receive a bursary of £10,000 a year.
Paramedic science degree places will also be increased, the government has confirmed, with 300 places available – up by 7%.
Intake numbers are based on considerations such as future demand as well as from discussions with representatives from NHS workforce planners, social care, universities, professional bodies and trade unions including the RCM, RCN, and Unison.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “I am pleased to report that student intake numbers in nursery, midwifery, and paramedic science will continue to increase this year.
“Staffing in our NHS remains at a record high level following eight consecutive years of growth, but as we remobilise NHS services, we must keep looking to the future and plan ahead for the next generation of Scotland’s healthcare workforce.
“This includes a significant expansion in the mental health nursing intake, recognising the additional support that will be required to address the mental health and wellbeing impacts from coronavirus across Scotland.
“The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the integral role of nurses, midwives and paramedics but it is just another example of the essential care they provide for Scotland’s population on a daily basis.
“I am deeply grateful to them for all the work they do, and I commend everyone who is studying for a career in these essential roles, or applying to, in these challenging times.”
Following the announcement, Scotland’s Royal College of Nursing said the number of vacant nursing posts within the NHS and in care homes is a significant concern, and had been since before the pandemic.
Its associate director Eileen McKenna said: “Scottish Government has recognised that we need to increase the number of student nurse places to future-proof the workforce. Today’s announcement goes some way towards this.
“The focus on the mental health workforce is particularly welcome but the lack of increase in places for learning disability nursing and children’s nursing is disappointing.
“It has been great to see an increase in interest in nursing as a career choice as the profession has so much to offer.
“However for this increased interest to result in an increase in nurses, the number of places available must continue to grow and students need the appropriate financial, academic and clinical support to complete their education and enter the workforce.”