Student nurses have been pushed into debt and left unable to afford food or transport after tens of thousands were not been paid their correct bursary this autumn, Nursing Times has learnt.
The crisis has developed since the summer and is thought to have affected up to 35,000 healthcare students.
Dozens of trainees have contacted Nursing Times to complain about delays in receiving their payments. Some say they are now in debt as a result, while others have been forced to turn to friends and family for help with childcare costs and buying food (see right).
The NHS Student Bursaries organisation is still battling to sort out the problems and began issuing “provisional payments” in September to tied students over.
Many students have complained about being repeatedly told different things by NHS Student Bursaries contact centre staff, with some promised payments only for the cash not to arrive.
Many have also complained about being hit with large mobile telephone bills after calling the contact centre, which uses an 0845 telephone number.
Jenny Thompson, 25, is studying to be an adult nurse at Plymouth University and told Nursing Times she was in debt because of delays in her payments. Although she received an initial payment in September, after applying in June, she had received nothing since.
The mother-of-two said: “I don’t know if I can afford to stay on the course. I’m having to borrow money from people to travel and for food, it’s embarrassing. I feel like I am being constantly fobbed off and there are other people on my course still waiting to receive payments as well.”
Rachel Shelley, 26, who is studying to be a mental health nurse at York University, told Nursing Times that, despite applying for her bursary early in the summer, she did not get the £558 she was expecting in September.
As a result, she had to turn to her family for help paying her rent, and ran up a £76 phone bill trying to contact NHS Student Bursaries to solve the problem.
She said: “On two occasions they told me it was fine and then when the day came the money didn’t arrive. I called them over several weeks, one person told me I wasn’t even eligible and another told me I shouldn’t rely on the money anyway!”
NHS Student Bursaries denied there was any problem with its application process and claimed students had either not applied soon enough or failed to provide sufficient evidence to support their application.
A spokesman said NHS Student Bursaries said it began inviting students to apply for bursaries in March and May.
He said: “In June, we identified we had still not received the majority of completed applications from continuing students in time for us to assess their application and put assessed award payments in place for the September/October intake.
“Our investigations showed this mainly affected continuing students who were either not applying at all or who were sending insufficient or incorrect evidence to support their application. We sent reminders via phone, email and text to encourage students to take action accordingly.”
He said NHS Student Bursaries had begun issuing all continuing students with a “provisional payment” in September based on the monthly bursary they received in 2011-12.
The spokesman added: “We are working with those students who have been affected and have introduced escalation procedures for queries, fast track processing facilities for any student facing severe financial hardship and additional weekly payment runs.”
Regarding complaints about the service from contact centre, the spokesman added: “We regret that some students have not experienced a service that they would expect from us in this instance.”
NHS Student Bursaries said it hoped to have all claims received by 30 September reassessed by 31 December.