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Healthcare coalition writes to PM over bursary plans

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A group of health unions and professional organisations have teamed up to call on the government to halt its plans to reform student nurse funding.

A coalition of over 20 unions, charities and colleges have sent an open letter to the prime minister to coincide with the start of the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress in Glasgow.

“We urge you to reconsider these plans and to meet with us to hear our concerns directly”


As well as the RCN, the letter to David Cameron is signed by representatives from Unison, Unite, the Queen’s Nursing Institute, the Institute of Health Visiting and the Foundation of Nursing Studies.

Medical organisations are also represented on the letter by two royal colleges and the British Medical Association.

The letter warns that the proposals to replace bursaries with a system of loans risks reducing the supply of future nurses, midwives and allied health professionals at a time when they are needed more than ever.

The organisations also said they wanted to highlight a “worrying lack of clarity or consultation” about the effect the funding changes could have on those who need to train for more advanced or specialist roles, such as health visitors or district nurses.

With an increasing number of patients having multiple chronic conditions and with more care moving to the community, such roles are increasingly important for the NHS, they noted, and said the uncertainty about future funding was of “great concern”.

The RCN has previously warned that in seeking to resolve the workforce problems of the past, the government is putting the financial burden on the health care students of the future.

It said the overwhelming message to the government was that its plans were a “short-sighted attempt to solve a long-term and complicated problem”. As they have not been properly risk-assessed, continuing with them in their currently form would be “nothing short of reckless”, it claimed.

Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to axe bursaries in November’s comprehensive spending review, claiming it would free up universities to provide an additional 10,000 training places by 2020.

A government consultation on the removal of bursaries – which will apply to student midwives and allied health professionals as well as trainee nurse – is ongoing until 30 June.

The full text of the letter reads:

As the leaders of professional organisations, health unions, patient organisations and Royal Colleges, we are calling on you to take immediate action to halt the government proposals to reform student funding for nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals.

The government’s proposals on student funding for nursing, midwifery and AHPs are an untested gamble with the future of the workforce that have not been properly risk assessed. There is little explanation or consultation about what impact these funding changes will have on the plans of those who need to train for more advanced or specialist roles, such as health visitors or district nurses, at a time when their expertise is needed by patients more than ever.

The plans to switch to a system of loans threatens to reduce the supply of future nurses, midwives and AHPs at a time when patient demand is rising. While loans and tuition fees exist within other parts of higher education, it is important to recognise that those changes occurred after more than a decade of phased introduction. The impact will be worse in health because there are no transition arrangements. There is no safety net for the NHS, these proposals will have a detrimental effect on the current and future NHS workforce, and also on the quality of patient care and safety provided in England.

We are deeply concerned that these plans could disproportionately affect more mature students, women, students with children and those who already have a degree, people who have always made up an important part of the NHS workforce. Many of these people will be unwilling or unable to take on even more debt, and their vital contribution will be lost.

Under these plans, the government has failed to allocate any funding for extra clinical placements and mentors, vital in giving students real, practical experience. Healthcare students can spend up to 50% of their studies in clinical settings, so the quality of their education experience could be significantly affected.

These plans are a short-sighted attempt to solve a long-term and complicated problem. They have not been properly risk-assessed, and continuing with them as they stand would be nothing short of reckless.

We urge you to reconsider these plans and to meet with us to hear our concerns directly. We would also be keen to discuss the ways in which we can work together to create a health care workforce that is well motivated and sustainable for the years to come.


The letter has been signed by:

  • Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary, RCN
  • Julie Bliss, chair, Association of District Nurse Educators
  • Peter Ward, chief executive officer, British Dental Association
  • Paddy Tabor MVO, chief executive, British Kidney Patient Association
  • Dr Mark Porter, council chair, British Medical Association
  • Dr Jill Firth, president, British Health Professionals in Rheumatology
  • Dr Rosemary Gillespie, chief executive, the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists/The College of Podiatry
  • Dr Theresa Shaw, chief executive, Foundation of Nursing Studies
  • Dr Cheryll Adams, executive director, Institute of Health Visiting
  • Megan Dunn, national president, National Union of Students
  • Arlene Wilkie, chief executive, Neurological Alliance
  • Katherine Murphy, chief executive, Patients Association
  • Steve Ford, chief executive, Parkinson’s UK
  • Dr Crystal Oldman, chief executive, the Queen’s Nursing Institute
  • Professor Maureen Baker, chair, Royal College of General Practitioners
  • Cathy Warwick CBE, chief executive, Royal College of Midwives
  • Professor Judith Ellis, chief executive, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
  • Janine Tregelles, chief executive, Royal Mencap Society
  • Richard Evans, chief executive office, the Society and College of Radiographers
  • Dave Prentis, general decretary, UNISON
  • Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary, Unite
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Readers' comments (1)

  • But how much does Cameron and his kind actually care about keeping good nurses in our healthcare system? Aren't they just an inconvenience to an aim to bring in a private healthcare system?

    I believe Cameron to be an intelligent but merciless man whose main aim is to keep on exerting his own power.

    He and Osborne have, I believe, seriously mismanaged the budget required to ensure adequate health care provision to this nation, the 6th richest in the world. I believe there is too much emphasis on over-enthusiastically and covertly cutting care costs in a way that causes unacceptable and unnecessary harm to patients in order to present this government as the party that can deliver an economy that looks good. I believe that the social costs of their narrow view are heinous. I also believe that the opposition parties are not doing enough in terms of outcome to prevent harm to patients.

    I believe that the recent push to lose the guidance input from the Nursing sector to the Department of Health is part of a move to place power with doctors some of whom are just, in my opinion, modern day Himmlers when it comes to the care of the vulnerable.

    I believe that if people who would make high calibre, professional nurses in this country cannot access training and further training, then the nurses who will end up occupying the posts will be those who are prepared to behave unlawfully and deliver bad care surreptitiously to keep in with the boss who in turn needs to keep in with (devolved and less accountable?) NHS authorities.

    I believe that when these nazi-style practices are discovered as they surely will be some day, we will be rightly shamed and ridiculed for decades to come by other nations. People behave badly when there is not enough to go around but what justification from the 6th richest nation could excuse the behaviours that I believe exist here now?

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