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Anger as government axes nurse and midwife bursaries

Midwives say the move threatens the future of maternity services

Mark Gould

Friday, 22 July 2016

The government has sparked angry responses from nurses and trade unions with its announcement that the bursaries for student nurses and midwives are to end from next year.

They will be replaced by loans in a move which the Department of Health, in its response to consultation on the changes, says will save some £800 million a year, create more nursing posts, and help more students enter the profession.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says the move will exacerbate recruitment problems. It estimates that there is a shortage of around 3,500 midwives in England alone. Because these plans are likely to make that shortage worse the RCM believes this policy to be a fundamental mistake.”

Jon Skewes, the RCM director for policy, employment relations and communications said the college "unequivocally condemns" the plans.

"We have grave concerns for the future of maternity services and the midwifery profession in England as a result of this. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have no plans to follow suit and we welcome their good sense.”

“Ministers have made minor concessions on the cost of placements and hardship, but this does not compensate for the large debts that midwifery students will experience and is not sufficient. The government has completely ignored the RCMs advice to make any loans forgivable if students then go to work in the NHS. The plans for England are likely to worsen the current shortage of midwives. Never has there been more demand for the midwifery care because of the rising birth rate."

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) General Secretary Janet Davies said the plans were an “untested gamble”.

“Whilst our members are extremely unhappy with this model, it is positive that the government has listened to some of our concerns including the transitional bursaries for postgraduates and hardship funds, but there is still a worrying lack of clarity on clinical placements," she said.

The government has made concessions in some areas in response to lobbying by the RCN. Postgraduate students starting in 2017/18 will still receive a bursary as a transitional arrangement, while the government will also cover the cost of secondary accommodation for students on placement.

Students with children will also be given £1,000 to cover childcare costs, and there will also be an exceptional hardship fund for those in serious financial difficulty.

And Health Education England (HEE) will continue to commission the minimum number of placements for 2017/18, with universities able to create additional placements with their local trusts while having their HEE-funded placements maintained at existing levels.

Health minister Philip Dunne said: "Currently two thirds of people who apply to university to become a nurse are not offered a place - we are committed to plans to increase the number of training places for home-grown nurses, midwives and allied health professionals, with those in training getting around 25% more financial support while they study."

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