Plans to scrap student bursaries must be reviewed to assess their impact on the supply of nursing staff and to see if a “transitional approach” can be applied to those who train as a second degree, a committee of MPs has said.
In a report on the impact of the government’s spending review on health and social care, the Commons’ health select committee noted concerns that the move to a loans system for student nurses and midwives from autumn 2017 would not lead to more being trained, as the government had claimed.
In supplying evidence to the committee, the Royal College of Nursing and Royal College of Midwives expressed concerns that student debts from the loans system – estimated by the RCM to be around £60,000 - could deter applicants.
The committee report noted this contrasted to claims made by universities, which said the proposals would allow more training places to be created by removing the dependence on annual government funding.
”We recommend that the government review the impact on those training as a second degree and examine a transitional approach”
Health select committee
However, universities stressed that “such reforms would need to be handled carefully to manage the risk of reducing demand from applicants,” said the report.
The committee report said: “We have heard concerns about the potential impact of the proposed abolition of NHS bursaries on the supply of nursing staff and other allied health professionals.
“We recommend that the government review the impact on those training as a second degree and examine a transitional approach to support this section of the future workforce.”
Committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston has previously suggested that the government’s plans to remove bursaries for student nurses should be phased in rather than completely abolished.
In a Commons debate earlier this year she called on ministers to consider initially retaining a bursary for mature students and providing grants for those studying in specialities where there were particular shortages.
In today’s report the committee noted evidence from three heath think tanks that estimated the removal of bursary funding would save the government around £1.2 billion a year.
In response to today’s report, Dr Wollaston said the group of MPs was “deeply concerned” about the effect of cuts to training budgets.
”The cuts to health education come at a time when the workforce shortfall is already placing a significant strain on services”
“The cuts to health education come at a time when the workforce shortfall is already placing a significant strain on services and driving higher agency costs,” she said.
“Training and developing the current and future NHS workforce must be a key priority for the NHS and we are deeply concerned about the effect of cuts to training budgets,” she said.
Overall, the report concluded that funding allocated for the NHS in the spending review was less than was previously suggested by the government and that this was not enough to support the NHS’s plan for the future – the Five Year Forward View.
It said proposed strategies for reducing NHS provider costs – including pay restraint for staff and imposing agency price caps - were not sustainable ways of securing efficiencies in the long term.
”The health committee has delivered a sobering assessment of last year’s spending review”
Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “The health committee has delivered a sobering assessment of last year’s spending review and its wide ranging impact on the health and care system and patient care.”
“It’s also good to see the committee listening to our evidence on proposed changes to student nurse funding and urging the government to carry out a proper review of transitional arrangements before any change is implemented,” she said.
A Department of Health spokesman said it rejected the report’s overall conclusions and that it “actively supported the NHS’s own plan for the future with the £10 billion extra requested, despite the public finances being tight”.
“More than that, we’re providing support to help hospitals make efficiencies and improve productivity as well as national measures to reduce the use of expensive agency staff” he added.