The scrapping of bursaries for trainee nurses, midwives and allied health professionals in England comes into force today, marking the end of free university education for healthcare students.
New students starting on courses from this academic year onwards will have to take out a loan to cover their tuition fees and day-to-day costs, under the controversial policy that was first unveiled by ministers around 18 months ago.
“The axing of the bursary and introduction of tuition in England will without doubt worsen the current shortage of midwives”
The government has estimated this will cost a student at least £47,712 for a three-year course if they take out a maximum tuition and maintenance loan.
The Royal College of Midwives warned again today that the ending of bursaries was a “fundamental mistake,” that would worsen staffing shortages.
The concerns were echoed by the Royal College of Nursing which said the scrapping of bursaries ”couldn’t come at a worse time” for the profession due to the increasing number of nurses leaving their jobs and the ongoing struggle by the NHS to fill vacancies.
There has been widespread opposition to the funding changes by students, nurses and unions since the government announced its plans at the end of 2015.
It has been claimed that the move to loans will be off-putting to many prospective applicants fearful of debt, in particular mature students who are often recruited onto nursing courses.
Last month, official figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) showed 23% fewer people in England applied to nurse training courses this year compared with 2016.
Nursing Times later exclusively revealed the first set of univerisities that are reducing their course sizes this year.
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But the government has always noted there have been far more applications to pre-registration nursing courses than funded training places available in the past.
It has said that the removal of bursaries will mean an additional 10,000 training places for healthcare students could be made available by 2020.
“The government should be doing all it can to make working in the NHS as attractive as possible”
However, RCM policy director Jon Skewes claimed that the government had “completely ignored” the union’s advice that student loans should be repaid if nurses worked for the NHS.
“The axing of the bursary and introduction of tuition in England will without doubt worsen the current shortage of midwives,” he said.
“In England alone we remain 3,500 midwives short. This, coupled with younger midwives leaving, an ageing workforce and the loss of European Union midwives post Brexit, means the RCM has grave concerns for staffing our maternity services,” said Mr Skewes.
“We are dealing with a profession that is already overworked, understaffed and under paid. The government should be doing all it can to make midwifery and working in the NHS as attractive as possible rather than deterring those by cutting public funding to train frontline staff,” he added.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Removing the student bursary couldn’t come at a worse time for nursing. Experienced nurses are leaving the profession and the NHS is struggling to fill vacancies.
“The RCN warned that removing student funding would put the future supply of nurses at risk. This predication has come true with applications to nursing degree places falling by nearly a quarter this year. Worryingly mature students with much-valued life experience are also being put off from entering the profession because they simply can’t afford to train,” she added.
Ms Davies called on the government to reverse the removal of the bursary and also lift the public sector pay cap to put a stop to the ”perfect storm engulfing nursing” and prevent further shortages.