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Government facing mounting opposition to plans to scrap NHS bursaries

Health unions stepping up campaign to try and force change of heart

Caroline White

Thursday, 05 May 2016

The government is facing mounting opposition from health unions over its plans to scrap NHS bursaries and replace them with loans from August next year.

This is despite a debate on the issue in the House of Commons yesterday, prompted by shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander, which resulted in defeat for calls to ditch the plans.

Under the proposals, prospective students will have to stump up the fees for courses like nursing, speech and language therapy, healthcare science, pharmacy and midwifery. Around 80,000 healthcare students are supported by a bursary.

But Unite says this will leave students with more than £50,000 worth of debt if they undertake a three year degree. It believes this will deter many potential applicants from pursuing a career within the NHS.

It points out that student nurses working up to 37.5 hours a week are on less than the minimum wage for half of their training and that graduate nurses’ average starting salary is less than £23,000.

Colenzo Jarret-Thorpe, Unite national officer for health, dubbed the plans a “cynical cost cutting exercise” that would leave the NHS ever more reliant on costly agency staff.

He added: “Abolishing NHS student bursaries will stoke up a future NHS workforce crisis as the prospects of soaring debt will deter many from pursuing a career in public service and be a barrier for mature students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds to entering health professions. The government need to listen to widespread concerns and ditch this policy now.”

Undeterred by the vote, Unite members plan to lobby parliament on 25 May with health students and other healthcare unions.

Danielle Tiplady, a Unite member and student nurse, said that the mere fact that Heidi Alexander had called an opposition debate on the bursary “shows the continuing concern around the removal of the NHS bursary to the future workforce of our healthcare service.”

In a blog posted today, Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive, Janet Davies, wrote: “The government is risking the future of nursing through the changes to student funding and we are calling for the proposals to be stopped immediately until a more suitable model of funding can be found - the evidence to justify these changes just isn’t there.”

The plans, along with the new nursing associate role and the new system of apprenticeship leading to nursing registration all threatened “to have a profound effect on nursing for years to come,” she said. “We are at a crossroads…The future of nurse training currently hangs in the balance.”

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