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Axing bursaries 'dangerous threat' to patient care post Brexit, warns peer

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Government plans to scrap student nurse bursaries and move to a loans system in England have become “increasingly risky” following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union and should be paused, a peer will warn later today.

In a House of Lords debate this afternoon on the impact of Brexit on safe staffing for the NHS and social care services, Baroness Mary Watkins will say the removal of bursaries at a time of Brexit could pose a “dangerous threat” to the quality of patient care.

The risk to the future supply of the workforce is “simply too great” during the current period of “great uncertainty”, she will say.

”[Replacing bursaries with loans] now seems increasingly risky in terms of the future supply of the nursing workforce”

Baroness Watkins 

She will describe the proposals as an untested gamble with the future workforce and will say it is too soon to introduce loans for student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals from autumn 2017.

The government has claimed the proposals will ensure up to 10,000 extra nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals can be trained by 2020, because universities will no longer be restricted by annual funding.

But Baroness Watkins will say that without testing the plans, there was no evidence there would be an increase in the number of people taking up course places.

The government should instead pause the proposals to fully consider their impact and explore alternative ways of funding healthcare training, according to Baroness Watkins, who is a nurse by background.

“The [decision] to replace NHS bursaries for nurses and other health professionals in England with a new system of student loans and tuition fees…was taken before the result of the referendum was known and now seems increasingly risky in terms of the future supply of the nursing workforce,” she will say.

baroness audrey emerton

baroness audrey emerton

Baroness Audrey Emerton

During the debate she will stress the crucial role EU healthcare workers play in providing safe care in the NHS, noting that 33,000 nurses from the EU are registered to work in the UK.

She will urge the government to “act swiftly” to confirm their immigration status so that they are assured they will be able to remain in the country.

Baroness Watkins will also say staffing levels in the NHS continue to lag behind the required number for safe care and will call on the government “in a post Brexit environment” to consider the introduction of nurse staffing laws similar to those recently introduced in Wales.

In addition, she will address a wide range of issues including threats to funding for ongoing training of registered nurses, poor retention of staff and the need for a senior nursing voice based at the Department of Health.

Also speaking during the debate, Baroness Audrey Emerton will call for healthcare staff working in the NHS and independent sector to be reassured they are valued.

She will also refer to the forthcoming introduction of the nursing associate role – designed as a bridge between healthcare support workers and registered nurses – claiming the title of the role could be confusing for patients who would think they were a registered nurse.

She will say that a similar role in the past – the state enrolled nurse – was often misused and that the likelihood of this occurring again would be greater if the new role’s title was not changed.

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