Ministers have “not thought hard enough” about the potential risks of their proposals on reforming student nurse funding by replacing bursaries with loans, the Royal College of Nursing has claimed.
The government is “risking the future of student nurse funding” and asking the “wrong questions” in its recently published consultation on the proposals, according to the RCN.
“It is time to go back to the drawing board”
In a statement issued on Friday, the college stated that the risks were “so serious” that it was calling for the proposals to be stopped “immediately” until a more suitable funding model could be found.
It said there was a “very real risk” that the changes could harm patient care and damage the provision of comprehensive health services.
Creating a “fair, effective and sustainable” funding system for nursing education was “absolutely critical”, it said, adding that it would be willing to work with ministers to develop alternative an idea.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “The government has not thought hard enough about the risks of these proposals.
“Nursing students’ placements and longer term times mean they do not have the opportunity to earn extra money during their studies,” she said. “A higher proportion are also mature students, and the prospect of taking on even more debt with a second degree will likely put off many potential nurses.
“The government has not thought hard enough about the risks of these proposals”
In addition, Ms Davies argued that there was uncertainty about funding for any rise in future placement numbers, which would need to accompany any increase in course places.
“Every extra training place needs a high quality placement to give the student practical experience,” she said. “Worryingly, the government has not explained how these extra placements will be funded, or how their quality will be monitored.
“The government has also not properly addressed the risk that this will reduce access to nursing and make workforce planning even more difficult,” she added.
The “open market” approach to funding nurse training places favoured by the government risked an “uneven distribution of students, geographically and across different specialties”, she noted.
She warned: “The quality and depth of our healthcare workforce is too important to be left to the whims of an open market. It is time to go back to the drawing board.”
At Unison’s annual health conference in Brighton on Monday, nurses stressed their organisations were already struggling to employ enough staff and that the switch to loans from next year could reduce the supply of recruits further.
One delegate acknowledged the present system was “inadequate” but suggested that instead of introducing loans students should be paid a living wage during their training.
Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to axe bursaries in November’s comprehensive spending review, claiming it would free up universities to provide an additional 10,000 training places by 2020 because they would not be restrained by public funding limits.
A government consultation on the removal of bursaries – which will apply to student midwives and allied health professionals as well as trainee nurse – is underway until 30 June.