Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called for “an immediate halt” to government plans to replace healthcare student bursaries with loans, warning the move would hit nurse recruitment and healthcare services in the capital.
In a letter to the Department of Health, he warned London “will be impacted heavily by the decision to end the bursary system” and it that it would make recruiting and retaining nurses and midwives harder due to the higher cost of living.
”The proposed loan system is likely to impact unevenly on the capital, with some trusts struggling…to recruit essential frontline NHS employees”
Letter from Sadiq Khan to DH
The mayor’s appeal comes after the London Assembly passed a motion calling on him to urge the government to stop it plans, which will from autumn 2017 see students have to take out loans for both tuition fees and living costs.
The letter to the DH refers to a recent Royal College of Nursing survey, which found four in ten nurses employed in London may leave by 2021 due to the cost of housing.
“Given that housing costs vary considerably across London, the proposed loan system is likely to impact unevenly on the capital, with some trusts struggling more than others to recruit these essential frontline NHS employees,” said the letter, which is co-signed by London Assembly’s chair Tony Arbour and its health committee chair Dr Onkar Sahota.
“As a consequence, the removal of NHS bursaries may have a profound impact on the already startlingly high level of health inequalities in the capital and there will be a negative impact therefore on access to healthcare in London,” it added.
“We believe that the decision to scrap bursaries is driven by a desire to save money in the short-term and that, over the long-term, costs will be higher”
Letter from Sadiq Khan to DH
The government has said the introduction of fees will free up 10,000 extra places on nursing, midwifery and allied health professional degrees by 2020 by allowing universities to respond to high demand for courses instead of being constrained by funding.
However, Mr Khan and colleagues said a high ratio of applicants for nursing degree places “is an argument in favour of the government financing more nursing bursaries, not an argument for the introduction of loans”.
They said there was “a high risk” a loans system would prevent people from less wealthy backgrounds and those changing careers later in life from applying to nursing courses.
“We believe that the decision to scrap bursaries is driven by a desire to save money in the short-term and that, over the long-term, costs will be higher for the NHS both financially and in terms of UK-trained workforce working in the NHS,” said the letter.
“Two thirds of RCN members said they would not have studied nursing if they’d had to take out a full student loan”
“We call on the government to put an immediate halt to the proposals to end NHS bursaries until a long-term and viable option has been identified which promotes the value of graduate and university degree educated professionals,” it said.
The Royal College of Nursing, which is campaigning to save bursaries, welcomed the Mayor of London’s support.
“In London we already have a severe shortage of registered nursing staff,” said RCN London regional director Bernell Bussue.
“We need to be increasing the numbers coming through the system, but two thirds of RCN members said they would not have studied nursing in the first place if they’d had to take out a full student loan and pay fees.
“It is great news the mayor is backing the RCN’s campaign to save the nursing bursary. Nursing students should be given every support through their training to make sure London’s health system has as many nurses as are needed in the years to come,” he said.