Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has accused the government of “punishing” student nurses by bringing in reforms to scrap bursaries in England and introduce loans instead.
The changes would exacerbate the existing nurse shortage, he said, which has already led to nine out of ten hospitals currently being understaffed.
Speaking in the House of Commons during today’s prime minister’s questions he said people would be put off nurse training due to the prospect of debt, especially those who were already paying back a loan from a first degree.
“The repayments will amount to an effective pay cut of £900…Why is [David Cameron] punishing them when we need these nurses within our NHS?”
However, prime minister David Cameron responded by saying the funding reforms would uncap the number of training places universities can offer, resulting in in 10,000 more.
Under the current system, two thirds of those that apply to become a student nurse are turned away due to restricted numbers of course places, he said.
But Mr Corbyn noted the system being proposed was different in that it meant nurses paying back around £900 a year in loan repayments out of their wages.
He said: “I want to ask [the prime minister] about one particular group that are being targeted by this government now – student nurses.
“Two out of three that turn up wanting to be nurses are sent away by our current system, so we are bringing people in from Bulgaria or Romania [instead]”
“The repayments that student nurse will have to pay when qualified amount to an effective pay cut of £900 for each nurse. Why is he punishing them when we need these nurses within our NHS?”
Mr Corbyn referred to a student mental health nurse, Vicky, who would not have been able to afford to train without a bursary.
“She is someone who we need in our NHS, we need as a mental health nurse – we are losing her skill, her dedication, her aspiration to help the entire community,” he said.
In response, Mr Cameron said: “But two out of three Vickys that turn up wanting to be nurses are sent away by our current system, so we are bringing people in from Bulgaria or Romania or the other side of the world to do nursing jobs we should be training British people to do.
“The British people want to train as nurses, the NHS wants those nurses, this government will fund those nurses so let’s help them train and improve our health service.”
Student funding reforms for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals were announced by chancellor George Osborne in his spending review at the end of last year.
They will see the removal of bursaries for tuition fees and living costs for new students starting from autumn 2017.
The announcement has so far sparked two protest marches by student nurses in London and a debate in the Commons.
A government consultation on how to implement the proposals is expected in the next few weeks.