The NHS bursary for student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals in Wales will continue to be in place in 2020, it has been announced.
Health and social services minister, Vaughan Gething, has today confirmed that the NHS Wales bursary scheme will remain in place for individuals who sign up to study an eligible healthcare-related programme in the academic year commencing 2020-21.
“We are committed to investing in the training of our nurses, midwives and other highly skilled professionals working in our NHS”
While the bursary was withdrawn in England in autumn 2017, for Wales it will continue to be available for healthcare students who commit to working in the country for up to two years after qualifying.
Those who cannot commit in advance to working in Wales are still able to study by taking out a loan.
As previously reported by Nursing Times, students who receive a bursary but fail to work for at least two years in the country are required to pay back at least £25,500 in fees. Those who drop out of courses will also need to repay their bursary.
Mr Gething said: “In Wales we are committed to investing in the training of our nurses, midwives and other highly skilled professionals working in our NHS.
“By extending this support package, I want to demonstrate how much we value our healthcare workforce and are committed to supporting them through their studies,” he said.
The extension comes as the Welsh government launches its This is Wales – Train, Work, Live marketing campaign, which aims to attract more health professionals from other parts of the UK to come and work in Wales.
Mr Gething added that he will now be looking at what “longer-term arrangements” can be put in place as part of plans to continue to develop the workforce.
Welsh Education minister Kirsty Williams said: “The extension of the bursary in Wales is great news and will help attract and keep skilled professionals in Wales after studying here.
“The bursary compliments our improved student finance package, the most generous in the UK,” she added.
“It is vital for student midwives that the bursary is retained”
In response, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales, Helen Whyley, said: “The RCN welcomes the announcement that the NHS Wales Bursary scheme will continue for the 2020/2021 academic year.
“However, yet again we have a one-year extension to an essential funding stream for undergraduate nursing programmes, and it cannot continue indefinitely,” she said.
“The funding of nurse education in Wales is essential to building a sustainable workforce and filling the significant vacancies for nurses across Wales,” she added.
“We know from the experience in England that removing an NHS Bursary has seen the numbers of mature students coming into nursing fall dramatically,” said Ms Whyley.
“While there is currently a strong supply of applicants for student places at Welsh Universities with the lowest attrition rate in the UK but we can’t make the most of this offer when it continues to so short term,” she said.
RCN Wales is calling on the Welsh government to make a long-term commitment to investing in safeguarding the nursing student bursary in Wales, she noted.
RCN general Secretary and chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair also welcomed the news.
She said: “This is good news for prospective nursing students in Wales and will give more young people the confidence to enter our profession.”
“The abolition of the bursary in England has failed to increase the numbers as intended, and the prospect of debt is deterring students from choosing nursing,” she said.
”As a result, applications to study nursing have fallen by 30% since 2016, and over 500 fewer students started nursing degrees last year,” she added.
“It’s time for the government in England to commit to investing at least £1 billion into nurse higher education to help recruit, educate and retain the new generation of nurses we need to deliver safe and effective staffing across the health and care system,” said Dame Donna.
Also commenting, Helen Rogers, Royal College of Midwives director for Wales, said the news was “very welcome”.
“It will bring some financial certainty and stability for those intending to enter midwifery in that academic year,” she said.
“That the Welsh government is not going down the same road as England, where bursaries have been scrapped, is to be applauded,” she said. “It is vital for student midwives that the bursary is retained.”
While pleased with the move, Ms Rogers called on the Welsh government to commit to keeping the bursary for many years into the future.
“We need to be sending a message to younger people such as those in school thinking about future careers and choices,” she said.
“They need to know now that they can train as a midwife when they reach the right age, with a bursary to support them through it,” she added.