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Rethink study funds for nurses to bolster headcount, government urged

RCN student members launch campaign to reverse ‘catastrophic fall’ in nurse numbers

Caroline White

Monday, 05 November 2018

The government must prioritise funding for nursing higher education in England if it is to halt the ‘catastrophic fall’ in the nurse headcount, says the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) at the launch of its Fund Our Future campaign.

Led by RCN student members, the campaign aims to get at least £1bn a year back into nursing higher education in England to help students struggling to make ends meet.

It is encouraging student nurses across England to write to their local MP to raise awareness of the pressures they face and force the government to look again at how it funds student nurse education.

The plan is for MPs to then write to Matt Hancock, health and social care secretary, and NHS chief Simon Stevens to put a minimum of £1bn a year back into nursing higher education, as the plan is drawn up for how services are prioritised over the next 10 years. This plan is expected in December.

The money would go some way to replacing the funding lost when the bursary for nursing degrees was removed, and to providing incentives to encourage people to study nursing.

Since the bursary was scrapped, applications to study nursing are down by a third and 1800 fewer people have been accepted onto nursing degree courses, says the RCN.

Falling student numbers are also contributing to the growing number of nursing vacancies in England, which now stands at almost 42,000.

Acting RCN chief executive, Dame Donna Kinnair said: “The government’s policy to increase nursing student numbers by scrapping the bursary has failed. We now face falling student numbers at a time when nursing vacancies in England are expected to hit 48,000 in the next five years.

“Student nurses face unique challenges, and increasing numbers are being forced to rely on hardship loans to make ends meet. This is on top of clinical placements where they are too often used to plug rota gaps instead of being supported to learn. It is time to rethink student education funding. Safe patient care depends on it.”

Kelly Hitchcock, RCN student committee member, added: “Nursing is one of the toughest degree courses you can take. Nursing students have to spend just as much time on clinical placement as they do in the classroom, often over the summer. This leaves little room for part-time jobs to boost income.”

She explained: “This was hard-going with the bursary. Now, with the added pressure of spiralling debt and a loan that often doesn’t cover extra costs such as travel to placements, too many students are pushing themselves to their limits to qualify.

“For the sake of patient safety, this must not be allowed to continue,” she insisted.

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