The shake-up up of the student bursary system will help open up nursing to people from a wider range of backgrounds, according to health minister Ann Keen.
The Department of Health this week launched its consultation on the future of funding for healthcare students, including nurses – a move first revealed by Nursing Times in June.
The consultation should see an end to the long-running disparity between nursing diploma students, who receive non-means tested bursaries, and nursing degree students, who are means tested. It proposes five possible options, most of which would result in a fairer support system for students across the board (see box).
The review, while driven by nursing’s expected move to an all-graduate entry profession 2015, is also being seen as an opportunity to make nursing a more attractive career for a wider section of society.
The number of applicants to nursing courses has dropped in recent years and fewer numbers of school leavers consider it an attractive career – prompting warnings of an impending recruitment crisis.
“Essentially, the aims of the review are to improve the number of students who complete their courses, the number of graduates who take up healthcare posts, and also to encourage students from groups who are under-represented within the NHS to consider studying to be a healthcare professional,” Ms Keen told Nursing Times.
“We hope that the new student support package will remove any barriers in attracting and retaining sufficient high quality applicants from a diverse range of backgrounds, and importantly make the nursing profession an even more attractive career for a greater range of people,” she added.
Welcoming the consultation, Unison head of nursing Gail Adams said: “We’re delighted it’s finally out. The bursary system has existed for 20 years and has never been reviewed. It is no longer fit for purpose.”
The consultation process will run for 12 weeks, closing on 11 December. Two “listening events” are also planned to take place – one in London on 27 October and the second in Leeds on 4 November.
Ms Keen added: “We strongly encourage those who are interested in this issue to register their views.”
Those who wish to take part can download a response form from the DH website, email email@example.com or write to the DH at Room 2N22, Quarry House, Quarry Hill, Leeds, LS2 7UE.
The five options:
Retain the current scheme
Provide a means-tested bursary and a non-means-tested loan for all students
Provide a non-means-tested bursary for all students
Move NHS-funded students to the same support arrangements as all other students in higher education
Employ all students whilst they are studying.