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Plans to scrap student nurse bursary 'reckless'

Unions urge Prime Minister to reconsider plans for student loans for trainee nurses

Mark Gould

Monday, 20 June 2016

A coalition of more than 20 trade unions, charities and professional colleges led by the Royal College of Nursing is calling on the Government to halt its plans to scrap bursaries for student nurses and midwives.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, they warn that these proposals, which include the introduction of student loans for student nurses, risk reducing the supply of future nurses, midwives and allied health professionals (AHPs) at a time when they are needed more than ever and are asking him to fully consider their impact on patient care in England. Ministers plan to overhaul the system in September 2017 and charge those studying to be front-line health workers for their degrees.

The letter highlights "the worrying lack of clarity or consultation about the effect funding changes could have on those who need to train for more advanced or specialist roles, such as health visitors or district nurses".

With an increasing number of patients having multiple chronic conditions, and with more care moving to the community, these roles are increasingly important for the health service and the uncertainty is of great concern.

Currently student nurses, midwives and other staff such as physiotherapists are entitled to bursaries of £4,500 to £5,500 - on top of a grant of £1,000 each year during their training. The course fees are also covered.

Ministers argue that the move to introduce university fees will bring health staff in line with other students and lead to an increase in nurse students - of about 10,000 - as applicants for courses currently outnumber the places available by two to one. This is because there is a cap on places.

The RCN has previously warned that in seeking to resolve the workforce problems of the past, the Government is putting the financial burden on the health care students of the future.

The RCN says that the overwhelming message from the coalition to the Government is that these plans are a short-sighted attempt to solve a long-term and complicated problem. Moreover, as they have not been properly risk-assessed, continuing with them as they currently stand would be nothing short of reckless.

The letter, which has been signed by the BMA and the Patients Association, warns that the proposal is an "untested gamble" and urged the government to halt the plans to properly consider their impact.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said that as nurses spent about half of their degree course working in the NHS it amounted, in effect, to "asking people to pay to go to work". "It feels very wrong," she added.

Picture: London, 4th June 2016. Protest march by healthcare professionals through central London, in protest of government plans to axe the NHS Bursary for students. Credit: John Gomez / Shutterstock.com

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