Labour’s shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has called an “opposition day debate” on the government’s plans to scrap NHS bursaries for student nurses and midwives.
The debate will take place next Wednesday, 4 May, and will be based on a cross-party motion signed by 139 MPs from all major parties, including the Conservative MP and former nurse Maria Caulfield.
“This situation will only get worse if ministers press ahead with their plans”
The motion will call on the government to “drop its plans to remove NHS bursaries” and consult on how best to fund and support the future healthcare workforce.
The move comes as the Royal College of Nursing released a position statement today calling on the government to go “back to the drawing board” and follows criticism of the funding reform plans earlier this week at Unison’s annual health conference, where Ms Alexander also spoke.
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Ms Alexander, MP for Lewisham East, said: “Jeremy Hunt has spent months picking a fight with junior doctors and now he seems determined to start another one with the next generation of nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.
“The Tories’ decision to cut nurse training places during the last parliament has already left hospital wards dangerously understaffed and patient care suffering as a result,” she said.
“However, this situation will only get worse if ministers press ahead with their plans to scrap NHS bursaries and end up discouraging the future frontline staff we so desperately need,” said Ms Alexander.
She added: “Next week the Tories have a clear choice: vote to invest in staff or take a reckless gamble with the future of the NHS workforce and with patient safety.”
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 because they would not be restrained by public funding limits.
A government consultation on the removal of bursaries – which will apply to student midwives and allied health professionals as well as trainee nurse – is underway until 30 June.
Responding to the announcement of the Commons debate, a Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We need more home-grown nurses in the NHS because they do an amazing job caring for patients, but currently two thirds of people who apply to become a nurse aren’t accepted for training.
“Our plans mean up to 10,000 more training places by the end of this parliament, with student nurses getting around 25% more financial support whilst they study,” she said.
Professor Jill Maben, director of the National Nursing Research Unit at King’s College London, said the Commons vote was “great news” for nursing, because ”informed debate, research evidence and modelling was required rather than an imposed solution”.
”We need to fully understand the impact £9,000 fees will have on recruitment to nursing,” she said. “Rather than increase recruitment to these professions as anticipated, it could decimate the workforce – especially in London.
“We need to ask the question ’how can we best fund nurse and AHP education that supports universities, students and NHS practice not burden NHS workers with debt’? Nurses work 2,300 hours in practice during their education yet this policy expects them to pay £9,000 to do so,” she said.
The wording of the motion is:
”That this House recognises the contribution of student nurses, midwives, allied health professionals and other healthcare staff; has serious concerns about the potential impact of removing NHS bursaries on the recruitment and retention of staff; and calls on the government to drop its plans to remove NHS bursaries and instead consult on how it can best fund and support the future healthcare workforce.”