Widespread anger as Government confirm plans to abolish student nurse bursaries
Health bodies and unions have reacted angrily after the Government confirmed plans to axe bursaries for student nurses and midwives.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the changes were “unfair and risky” while the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said it had “grave concerns” for the future of maternity services in England as a result of the decision, which it said would add to current staff shortages.
The Department of Health insisted it had listened to concerns raised during a consultation about the plans and would provide extra funding to help meet travel and childcare costs.
The Government has said that replacing bursaries with loans will free up around £800 million a year, create extra nursing posts by 2020 and help students from all backgrounds take up the role.
In the 2015 Spending Review ministers set out plans that will mean from August 2017, all new nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students will receive their funding and financial support through student loans rather than through the NHS bursary scheme in England.
Health minister Philip Dunne (pictured) 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.
“We’ve listened to feedback from the consultation and as a result will provide extra funding to help cover additional expenses like travel and more support for students with children. We will work with the RCN, hospitals and other partners in taking this forward.”
But RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: “Trying to resolve the workforce problems of the past by putting the financial burden on the nurses of the future is unfair and risky.
“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.
“Nurses will be dismayed that these plans will go ahead with no testing, despite the overwhelming concerns which they have consistently raised.”
Jon Skewes from the RCM said the royal college “unequivocally condemns” the decision.
“We have grave concerns for the future of maternity services and the midwifery profession in England as a result of this,” he said.
“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.”
Public service union Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea said: “It was clear from the start that this consultation was a sham. Ministers have simply not listened.
“They seem not to care that in a few years’ time the NHS will be seriously short of nurses, and there will be too few new recruits coming through to fill the gaps.
“That’s because the prospect of graduating with more than £50,000 of debt will discourage many from entering the profession at a time when the NHS is struggling to fill vacancies.
“Nurses differ from other graduates in that they spend much of their degree courses working alongside paid colleagues and are also unlikely to earn enough to ever pay off their student debt.
“This short-sighted decision is likely to mean 2,000 fewer graduates a year. To make up for the shortfall, the NHS will have to spend much more on agency staff, costing hospital trusts dearly.”
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2016, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA Wire.