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Bursary removal risks NHS recruitment 'disaster', say MPs


Removing bursaries for healthcare students could see the government “stumble into a disaster” of NHS recruitment problems, as potential nurses are put off by an average annual £900 paycut from loan repayments, MPs have claimed.

In a parliamentary debate last night over the government’s plans to end free university nurse education and instead introduce loans from 2017, MPs reiterated warnings that the prospect of debt risked deterring many people from training.

The debate was sparked by a petition against the reforms, which attracted more than 150,000 signatures.

Other MPs last night claimed that if the changes resulted in increased course places, as the government planned, this could create a “bottleneck” of student nurses due to a lack of placements and also no guarantee of jobs.

Concerns were also raised about the government’s decision to bring in the new system without speaking to unions and other experts about its impact, with MPs noting the forthcoming consultation would only look at how to implement the policy.

But care minister Ben Gummer said claims that students would be deterred were false, as evidence showed the introduction of higher fees for other subjects – raised to £9,000 a year in 2011 – had not caused a decline in student numbers.

He reiterated the demand for becoming a nurse was high – referring to figures that showed last year there were 57,000 applicants for 20,000 course places – and that the introduction of loans would provide trainees with more money upfront for living costs.

“The changes will, effectively, charge students for working in the NHS”

Heidi Alexander

The minister also said the government had consulted with “a number of chief nurses” who advise the Department of Health before announcing the policy.

However, Maria Caulfield, Conservative MP for Lewes and who is also a nurse, said the changes would be off-putting for mature student nurses in particular, who were likely to have already acquired debt from a first degree or have other financial commitments.

She noted it was “almost impossible” for student nurses to have a part-time job, as others did to supplement their income during training.

“We have heard how much time student nurses spend on clinical placements – more than 50% of their course, including nights, weekends and evenings – which makes it almost impossible for them to get any other income from part-time work. We must recognise that,” she said.

However, Ms Caulfield did acknowledge the current bursary system was not “ideal” and she welcomed the opportunity for reform.

“The government are stumbling into a potential disaster… for recruitment in the NHS”

Paul Blomfield

She said it undervalued the contribution made by student nurses while on placement by only providing them with around £3,000 a year for living expenses.

The MP for Lewes called for alternative routes to become a nurse – such as through the government’s newly proposed nursing associate role, which could lead on to degree-level nurse apprenticeships – to be fully developed before phasing out the bursary scheme.

She said this would give students a choice about the way they are trained, without the need to take out a loan for a degree.

But the Labour MP for Sheffield Central, Paul Blomfield, criticised the reforms, claiming nurses who trained under a loan system would end up on average losing around £900 a year from their salaries in band 5 roles.

“The government are stumbling into a potential disaster, not only for the lives of those who will not be able to pursue their dreams of a career in nursing, midwifery or the allied health professions, but for recruitment in the NHS,” he said.

However, Paul Scully, Conservative MP for Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park, claimed nurses would not be eligible to make £900 repayments until they reached band 6 earnings of around £31,000.

Heidi Alexander

Heidi Alexander

Heidi Alexander

Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander noted that trainee nurses differed from other students due to time spent working on clinical placements, “sometimes, keeping our hospital wards running”.

“The changes will, effectively, charge students for working in the NHS,” she said.

Meanwhile, Labour MP for Ilford North Wes Streeting said it was “an absolute disgrace” the government was looking to make financial savings “on the backs of the front-line staff who form the backbone of our NHS”.

He also said he was surprised ministers were pursuing such “radical” reforms without having fully assessed the risks.

Ms Alexander echoed his concerns, claiming the government was taking a “reckless gamble “with the NHS workforce, without any evidence or facts to back up the changes.

Department of Health

Poulter out and Gummer in, as Tories reshuffle health ministers

Ben Gummer

Mr Gummer said the government wanted a “full and detailed consultation about how the proposals should be implemented”. He added this would also address concerns about how to increase nurse placements.

“In the absence of alternative ideas, I believe that our proposals really are the way to expand places, improve diversity, increase opportunity, especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, improve quality and provide support for those at university,” he said.


Readers' comments (9)

  • hunt does not want trainded nurses only cheap labour, the public are always condemning nurse education as it is not like it was in the 1950s so hunt is merely carrying out the wishes of the ignorant . hunt fails to accept student nurses work for free on placement which is tantermount top slavery

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  • Comparing nursing to other courses that have had their fees raised is nonsense. No other course puts in the hours like nursing courses. For example history, art, would finish in June and go back in October plenty of time to eatn money!!!!!!!!

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  • I trained in the 70's and was rightly paid for the time I was working on the ward and was hands on which is sadly lacking today. I am glad that Student Nurse education is now recognised at degree level. I have now been a Learning Disability and Mental Health Nurse for 45 years and I cannot understand that if a student is working, training and studying why does it appear that they are no value to the Health Service and not worth paying, if they were health care assistance in training they would be paid. The staff in any hospital are an asset and should be valued and looked after.
    There are 4 nurses including me who live within a mile of my home not one work in a health service environment why?

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  • I finally get a chance to get accepted to a nursing degree by Northumbria University who said if I apply before Friday, they'll accept my degree and but it means I'd have to cram study for an IGCSE in Biology and do both exams in May and get an A* - B to even get a sniff of getting accepted on to the degree.

    I already have a degree, so if the whole system gets swept to the side, I would have to pay full tuition fees which I wouldn't be able to do, so how else would someone in my position coming from an already different working classification and has a degree get on to a course or even get a chance of getting trained to be a nurse?

    This is basically pulling away all possible foundations I have, in theory.

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  • Student nurses in essence work for their bursary, it isn't a free course. At least 22 weeks of the academic year are in a work placement setting, working long shifts, unsociable hours and a full time working week. Unlike other degree courses, It provides little opportunity to work part time as a further 23 weeks are spent in university, a total of 45 weeks of the year, most other degree courses are around 32 weeks and are mostly academic (20hours per week)
    Replacing the bursary with student loans, essentially means the government are asking us to not only pay for our own training but also work for free whilst doing so.
    I fail to see how this will improve the staffing crisis, surely removing the bursary is going to deter people, not attract more people. As a mature student I couldn't have retrained without the bursary and I imagine many more mature students like myself would say the same thing. I'd estimate 50% of my cohort would be classed as mature students, that's a significant number, based on this same percentage would we only receive half the number of applications?
    Ultimately it's a dangerous decision to have been made?
    Do we really think nurses should be paying for their own training over 3 years with no financial support?
    Should student nurses work for free for the 22 weeks they are on placement each year?
    Mr Osborne and the government believe so.

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  • I also trained in the 1970's when the contribution by students was recognised not by loans and bursarys but by a monthly salary paid by the hospital that employed you. It was acknowledged that we provided vital hands on care whilst learning, as a previous commentator noted, HCA's are paid whilst in training. No other students have the workload that nursing students have. It is indeed slave labour dressed up as 'education and training'. I can envisage a drop in applications to enter nurse training and this coupled with the rapidly approaching demographic timebomb that is retirement for a lot of nurses like myself it is surely a recipe for disaster but hey, does this government or any other government for that matter care a jot? I have enjoyed my career and my input with students over the past 40 + years but I can honestly say the way the NHS is going in general makes me glad I am due to finish in a few years time. It makes me sad to admit this and sorry for the public.

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  • Marc Evans

    I think they've got it! Finally MPs are understanding our concerns about removing the bursary. It absolutely will deter people from signing up to pre-registration courses! If I did not have the bursary to help support me through my programme when I was training then I wouldn't be a Nurse today. I could not imagine having 50k worth of debt knowing that it is extremely unlikely that I will ever earn that amount during my career. I am proud to be a Nurse but knowing you will spend your entire career and most of retirement in debt is unacceptable. MPs need to backtrack on their decision to remove bursaries now!

    I know that medical students depend on loans when they are training, however, they are likely to hit over 100k/year at some point in their career when they become consultants or GPs. They are likely to be able to pay it off whereas we are not.

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  • It is terrible - I wonder what the statistics are of Nurses who don't work for institutions or have pin but not in the industry, surely this would be more indicative of truth in regard to nursing numbers. And if there are many registered not working then would this not represent a lack of faith in the regulator, management and government or are they one in the same?

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  • I am applying to be a student nurse this year but am thinking is it going to be worth it?? I am worried that i financially won't be able to cope. I am currently a home carer and on a very low wage, having received a pay cut recently, but I don't know that i will be better off as a student nurse what with the cost of travelling to placements in London and living costs.
    A few other students on my course feel the same. The wage is not comparable to other front line professions , or those that require a degree. I feel that student nurses should be paid a fair wage for the work they undertake, as it is full time work with unsociable hours and long days.

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