A university has called for the government to “urgently” review its decision to remove student bursaries in light of workforce shortages that could be worsened following Brexit.
Plymouth University said the decision to move to a loans system for student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals should be looked at again, because it had been made before the UK had voted to leave the European Union.
“The decision to remove the bursary system for nurses and midwives… is creating great uncertainty”
Plymouth University policy paper
It claimed that, even if visa exemptions were made for European nurses and midwives in the future, it was still likely that Brexit would make it difficult to recruit the number of NHS staff it needed from the EU.
In addition, it warned that the removal of bursaries would not “markedly” increase student numbers – as the government has predicted – due to limited placement capacity.
To ensure ongoing recruitment of UK students, the government should, “as a minimum”, look at the possibility of university fees being paid back to staff after they have worked in the NHS for a set period, said the university.
It made the call in a paper laying out a series of measures needed to tackle the extra challenges the NHS would now face following the UK’s vote on Brexit.
The paper, published this week, was written by a group of academics at the university, including Margaret Fisher, an associate professor in midwifery, and Professor Bridie Kent, head of its school of nursing and midwifery.
“The decision to remove the bursary system for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals from September 2017 is creating great uncertainty about the consequences for an already depleted workforce,” said the paper, called The iSPER Brexit Series – The potential impact of Brexit on health: education, research and the wider NHS.
“The government does not appear to appreciate that this decision will not markedly increase the workforce – student numbers for most health professions being limited by capacity in clinical areas,” it added.
“The government does not appear to appreciate that this decision will not markedly increase the workforce”
Plymouth University policy paper
Other recommendations made in the paper following Brexit included a guarantee of as much free movement of health and social care clinicians, educationalists and researchers as possible between the EU and the UK.
The paper noted that registrants from Europe had typically held more equitable qualifications than some other countries due to EU directives, but that recruitment from this pool was now under threat due to potential limits on free movement.
“No reassurance has yet been received that the status of existing EU employees will be protected,” said the paper.
“Experienced staff who are already employed in the UK may choose, or have, to return to their native countries – further depleting both clinical service and education. Current workforce planning will not have allowed for this, and any remedial modifications will take years to have an effect,” it warned.
“The NHS will suffer in the meantime – potentially irrevocably. Private companies will be more likely to invest in skilled workers from other countries, increasing their ability to be providers of both healthcare and education,” it said.
The government confirmed last year that it would go ahead with its plans to remove bursaries for pre-registration healthcare students from autumn 2017. It has claimed that moving to a loans system will allow universities to create and additional 10,000 extra training places by 2020.