A petition calling for student nurses to be paid a minimum living wage, following the scrapping of the bursary, has been signed by over 250,000 people since it was set up three weeks ago.
The petition was started on the Change.org website by John Worth, a student nurse from Bristol, at the beginning of July. As of 11.30 today, it had been signed by 258,327 people.
“The fact that we aren’t paid makes it feel like we’re just free labour for the NHS”
It is aimed at prime minister Theresa May, universities minister Sam Gyimah and Matt Hancock, the new health and social care secretary.
Urging people to sign the petition, Mr Worth said that he felt like student nurses were providing “free labour for the NHS”, and were forced to take on other jobs to cover their living costs.
He highlighted that other students did not have the same pressure from being required to complete 2,300 clinical hours of hospital hours in order to join the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s register.
He also cited the strain on the mental health of students from the heavy work load of study and placements, combined with financial uncertainty, since the bursary was ended in England.
He said: “I’m a student nurse – I love what I do, I love everyone I’ve met on placement, and more than anything, I love the people that make up the NHS.
“But, in all honesty, being a nurse is a real struggle, and being a student nurse, having to work 37.5 hours a week and paid nothing, is even harder,” he said.
Regarding placements, he said: “I love the practical experience I get, but the fact that we aren’t paid makes it feel like we’re just free labour for the NHS.
“Many of us have to work part-time, some even full-time hours, as well as the 37.5 hours of placement, just to get some money coming in for living costs,” he said. “I’m doing my placement hours but also working on the side – mostly six days a week, sometimes even seven days.”
“The amount of work I do to get by is a big strain on my mental health”
Meanwhile, Mr Worth noted that a lot had been said about mental health awareness in recent months, especially for university students in the wake of the rising number of suicides.
“These statistics resonate with me because the amount of work I do to get by is a big strain on my mental health – the stress, the financial worry, the lack of rest,” he said.
“That’s why I’m calling for a minimum living wage for all student nurses, to ensure we aren’t wearing ourselves out, putting not only ourselves at risk but also the patients we come across day to day,” he added.
Mr Worth said he had also written directly to the health secretary about the issue and urged backers of the petition to contact their local MPs and “try and get some support behind us”.