The organisation that distributes bursaries to student nurses has apologised after Nursing Times revealed last week that thousands of students had been left in financial difficulties due to delays in the assessment and payment process.
Some students have been pushed into debt after not receiving their full payments on time, while others have told Nursing Times they have had to borrow money to buy food and pay for transport.
Steven Pink, commercial director at NHS Business Services Authority, which runs NHS Student Bursaries, said he was sorry students had not experienced the level of service they deserved and he pledged lessons would be learnt.
In an interview with Nursing Times, Mr Pink said NHS Student Bursaries had brought in staff to work on Saturdays and Sundays to clear the backlog of applications before its self imposed deadline of 31 December. Up to 17,000 students are still waiting to receive their correct payments.
Mr Pink said any student with a financial hardship would have their application “put to the front of queue”, with the hope of a three to five day turnaround time for their application by assessed.
He also revealed a series of measures to try and improve the service students received in future from NHS Student Bursaries.
To avoid students building up large mobile phone bills when contacting the organisation’s contact centre via its 0845 number, students would be able to text and email requesting a call back, he said.
Around 35,000 healthcare students did not have their bursary application assessed in time for the start of their course, though NHS Student Bursaries made a provisional payment in September to help tide students over.
NHS Student Bursaries has blamed the problem on a change in the application process, which meant 53,000 returning healthcare students had to reapply for their bursaries for the first time, as well as new students.
The organisation has claimed many of the returning students did not apply until after June.
Mr Pink said: “We are saying sorry the service was not all they [students] would expect. Whilst it is a matter of fact the [initial application] response was not as we had anticipated, that’s not something we are trying to hide behind.
“We are absolutely not blaming students and we don’t want to give that impression.”
He added: “We want to make sure we learn any lessons that we need to and we are already thinking about and planning for next year.
“One thing we didn’t anticipate was that, for some applicants, their applications needed to be worked [out] several times because not all the relevant evidence was there. I don’t think we appreciated the extent to which that would occur.”
He said there was now a “relentless focus” on getting the process right, noting that work on reducing the backlog was on-going.
He said: “We would like to emphasise we are taking students concerns seriously.
“We recognise the service they received has not always been as good as they would expect and we are apologetic for that.
“Our priority remains where students qualify for a bursary they get their payment as quickly as they can.”
By the end of this week, NHS Student Bursaries predicts it will have fully evaluated 26,000 applications and issued the correct payment.
The remaining 10,000 applications are still waiting for more information from students, with 17,000 waiting to be assessed by the end of December.