An independent mental health provider has more than doubled the number of grants it offers to student nurses to mitigate a potential reduction of newly-qualified nurse numbers following the scrapping of bursaries in England next year.
The move is in response to growing concerns that government funding reforms, leading to the end of free university training for nurses in 2017, will be off-putting for many applicants who will in the future have to take out a loan.
“[The bursary removal] puts an added on pressure on us…. This isn’t a way of attracting people to the profession”
Northampton-based charitable organisation St Andrews Healthcare, which employs around 700 nurses, will offer financial help to 20 trainees in 2016, and plans to do so to the same number again the year after.
It said the expansion of its current scheme – which usually offers eight grants a year – would help to ensure it was still able to recruit its usual annual intake of around 120 nurses.
Lisa Powell, service director for learning disability and autistic spectrum disorder pathways at St Andrews Healthcare, said: “[The scrapping of the bursary] has the potential for less people going into nursing training.
“It’s an expensive degree, people come out with quite a lot of debt. If you look at experienced nurses’ pay – about £28,000 a year – and they’re coming out with £27,000 of debt [just in tuition fees], it’s going to take them a long time to pay that back,” she said.
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“This puts an added pressure on us,” she said. “In an area where know we’ve got a national shortage – in mental health and learning disability nursing – this isn’t a way of attracting people to the profession.”
The organisation offers a £30,000 grant to mental health or learning disability student nurses on a fast-track pre-registration university course that can be completed in two years with previous clinical experience.
The money is offered on the condition that, after training, the nurses work at the healthcare provider for a minimum of two years.
St Andrews currently provides students with the grant to help with their living costs, replacing the need for a government-funded maintenance bursary. The student’s university place is funded by the government so they do not pay any tuition fees.
But from autumn 2017, the government will scrap bursaries for both tuition fees and maintenance costs, leaving student nurses to take out loans instead.
A consultation on the government’s plans was launched last week. It estimated the average student nurse debt from taking out loans for a three-year course would be between around £47,000 and £59,000.
When he first announced the funding reforms last year, chancellor George Osborne said it would lead to universities being able to offer up to 10,000 extra university places for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals – to whom the changes will also apply.
Unions have opposed the plans, claiming it will deter people from applying for nurse training – particularly those who already have debts from a previous degree or who have families and other financial commitments.