The system of bursaries and other financial support currently received by nursing and midwifery students is “not sustainable”, ministers have claimed in response to a letter from Nursing Times.
The editors of three of the country’s leading nursing journals, including Nursing Times, last month wrote to the government calling for a reversal of the decision to scrap bursaries for student nurses.
Nursing Times editor Jenni Middleton, along with senior colleagues at the Nursing in Practice and the Nursing Standard, warned of the “deep concerns” held by many in the profession about the plans.
In response, health minister Philip Dunne said that he appreciated that there were “concerns about financial support for student nurses and the future of the nursing workforce”.
However, he argued that the government’s new system would “typically provide students with a least 25% more living cost support while they study”.
He also repeated an earlier government prediction that the move from bursaries to loans would create up to 10,000 more university training places over the course of the current parliament.
“Rather than denying thousands of UK applicants a place to study nursing at university and then being forced to hire new nurses from overseas and others from expensive agencies, we will be boosting participation and securing the future supply of nurses to the NHS,” said Mr Dunne who took over the policy brief from Ben Gummer in the recent government reshuffle.
“This will open up opportunities for the 37,000 nursing applicants universities were force to turn down in 2014,” he said. “The current system of financial support for nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students is not considered to be sustainable.”
“I appreciate your concerns about financial support for student nurses”
Mr Dunne, who was responding on behalf of the prime minister, repeated government arguments that, because bursaries are paid for out of general taxation, the number of students trained was restricted by Department of Health finances, “which can lead to an undersupply of NHS staff”.
In the letter dated 16 September (see related file below), he also repeated government predictions that the “majority of students” would be better off under a loans system while they were in the education system.
“We are making additional offers on childcare, travel, dual accommodation and provision for hardship funding in appropriate circumstances,” he stated.
He went on to argue that universities would gain from the move, because it would “increase the resources available for teaching” via the combination of tuition fees and additional teaching grant funding.
“In addition, universities can now increase their student numbers, making their provision more sustainable. It is now up to universities to recruit more students,” said the Conservative MP for Ludlow.
“It is important that these staff are not unnecessarily concerned about their future”
He added: “Based on the experience of the higher education system generally, the combination of an increase of typically around 25% or more in support for living costs and bringing these students under the access agreement system will support widening participation from disadvantaged groups.”
Meanwhile, the three-page letter added that the DH was working with Health Education England to address the shortage of nurses “through a combination of increased training places, encouraging nurses to return to practice, and improving retention of experienced nurses in the workforce”.
Mr Dunne also said he noted the editors’ “concerns about nurses from overseas” in the wake of the European Union referendum, which was raised in their letter to Theresa May.
Student bursary system ‘unsustainable’, claims minister
However, while he stated that, overseas staff “have always played an important role in the health and social care system”, he did not guarantee a right to remain in the UK for NHS staff from other EU countries post Brexit – a policy backed by unions and some think-tanks.
Instead, he said: “It is important that these staff are not unnecessarily concerned about their future and a message of reassurance to all NHS staff has already been sent, emphasising the vital role played by EU nationals working in our health and care system.”