Student nurses today joined forces with the junior doctors’ strike by walking out of placements and demonstrating against what they described as the government’s “atrocious” plan to remove bursaries.
For an hour, from 10am to 11am, healthcare students across the country protested alongside medics – who are on strike all day over contracts and working conditions – about the move to a loans system.
“It shouldn’t be about whether you can afford to come [to university to train as a nurse], it should be about whether you can look after people”
They warned they were prepared to take further action if the government did not address their concerns over its plans to end free education for student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals in England from 2017.
Those taking part in the one-hour walkout said they and many student nurses would not have trained if they had been forced to take out loans to cover tuition fees and day-to-day costs, due to the debts they would have incurred.
Instead of taking away resources, the government should be “loving and supporting the NHS” and its staff, they said.
Bethany Glazsher, a student nurse from King’s College London, said she would not have been able to pay her rent without the maintenance bursary.
Under the government’s reforms, three years of university education and placements – where she said students are treated as healthcare assistants by staff – would be “too long” for students to work for no money, she said.
“I think three years is too long to work for free. Plus you would actually be paying to work – with the £9,000 fees [a year] – in a healthcare assistant or nurse job,” she said.
“I think [the government] are scared because they don’t know the impact this is all going to have or what is going to happen”
Another King’s student who took part in the walkout today, Hollie Haynes, said she also knew many trainee nurses who would have been unable to afford university under a loans system.
“To come out into a job that pays £21,000, and to have around £56,000 of debt if you didn’t have the bursary, you’d spend your whole working life trying to pay it back,” she said.
She claimed the funding reforms would mean only those wealthy enough to go to university would train to become a nurse.
“It shouldn’t be about whether you can afford to come, it should be about whether you are a good carer and if you can look after people. At the minute they [the government] are now making it more about the money than if you are good for the role,” she said.
Sophia Koumi, a qualified mental health nurse who now works for KCL Students’ Union, said the government’s plans to remove bursaries were “atrocious”.
student nurses at st thomas hospital demonstrating against bursary removal
She said she also would not have trained without a bursary, because she already had debts from a previous degree.
“I always wanted to be a nurse but I didn’t know if I could do it because I didn’t know if I could take on the cost of an extra degree. When I found out it had a bursary it meant I could follow my dream to become a nurse,” said Ms Koumi, who was at the demonstration today.
She urged the government to listen again to student and NHS staff concerns over the plans, adding it should be “loving and supporting the NHS” instead of removing resources.
“We’ve been able to get our foot in the door and talk to [the government]. I think they have been listening and I think they are scared, because they don’t know the impact this is all going to have or what is going to happen,” she added.