More than half of people in England want to see financial support for student nurses increased, according to a new poll.
The survey of 1,410 adults in the country found that 53% want some of the additional £20bn promised to the NHS to be spent on supporting the future nurse workforce during their studies.
“The drop in morale and motivation on the wards has been evident”
It comes as latest figures show the number of people applying to nursing courses in England has fallen by a third since the government scrapped bursaries in 2016.
The poll was carried out by YouGov on behalf of the Royal College of Nursing to give weight to the college’s campaign for an additional £1bn a year to be invested into higher education for nurses.
The RCN has presented the government with costed proposals for how the funding system could be overhauled in recognition of the unique challenges faced by nursing students.
On top of 2,300 hours of academic study, they are required to complete an extra 2,300 hours of clinical placements over their three-year course. This is a thousand hours more time spent on their programme than the average student.
The increased workloads mean it is harder for student nurses to take on a part-time job to supplement their student loan and cover the costs of housing, travel and food.
“Investing in the future of nursing is an investment in safe patient care and the future of our NHS”
Nursing students are also more likely to be older and therefore may already have other financial commitments.
Campaigners have made clear that even the former bursary offer did not provide enough support.
The funding proposals put forward by the RCN include offering a maintenance grant to all nursing students for their living costs as well as support for tuition fees, such as bringing back a non-repayable bursary or introducing forgivable loans that would be paid back by the government in return for nursing service.
Health minister Stephen Hammond has said he will consider the proposals, as reported by Nursing Times.
The RCN says increasing support for student nurses would be a step towards addressing the workforce issues currently facing the NHS.
The YouGov poll also revealed that three out of four people in the UK (71%) believe there are not enough nurses to keep patients safe.
Latest data shows 40,877 nursing posts in England were empty in the second quarter of this financial year.
The RCN warns that vacancies could hit as high as 48,000 by 2023 if no action is taken.
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Adaeze Bowen, a second-year nursing student from Essex, was in the last cohort to receive the bursary but said she had still “struggled financially” throughout her studies.
She is a single mother and living on less than £800 per month.
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“That constant financial stress compromises the quality of your work and the time you spend with your family,” Ms Bowen said.
“Things are even worse since the bursary was scrapped,” she added. “Not only have student nurse numbers visibly dwindled, the drop in morale and motivation on the wards has also been evident.”
Professor Dame Donna Kinnair, acting chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “Investing in the future of nursing is an investment in safe patient care and the future of our NHS.”