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Sturgeon attacks 'wrong-headed' bursary removal in England

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Scotland’s first minister has criticised the British government’s removal of bursaries for student nurses as being “a mistake and wrong–headed”, as she reiterated her own country’s commitment to providing free education.

Giving the keynote speech at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress in Glasgow, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said she hoped ministers in England would drop their plans.

“Unlike the UK government we recognise the role and contribution of student nurses and the demands they face”

Nicola Sturgeon

She said Scotland’s government was “totally committed” to supporting nursing and midwifery students and warned scrapping bursaries would mean fewer highly qualified nurses in future.

“Unlike the UK government we recognise the role and contribution of student nurses and the demands they face.

“We know that nursing students can be older, have children, have specific needs and their university education places different demands on them,” she said.

“This is a guarantee – here in Scotland we will retain free tuition and will retain the bursary,” added Ms Sturgeon.

“Reducing support for nursing students today will mean there is simply not enough highly qualified support for patients tomorrow. It’s a mistake, it’s wrong-headed and I hope the UK government changes its mind,” she said.

The Scottish government has previously confirmed it will maintain bursaries for living costs at the same level in 2016/17 but is due to report later this month on a review of how that system will change in future.

“Reducing support for nursing students today will mean there is simply not enough highly qualified support for patients tomorrow”

Nicola Sturgeon

Speaking at congress, Ms Sturgeon said the government in Scotland would also launch a discretionary fund of “at least £1m” for nursing and midwifery students later this year to provide a “safety net” for those who need additional financial support.

As reported by Nursing Times yesterday, she also confirmed that Scotland will make it a legal requirement for the use of nursing and midwifery safe staffing tools.

This follows the introduction of nurse staffing legislation in Wales earlier this year.

Ms Sturgeon also noted the Scottish government’s commitment to provide funding at levels above inflation for the NHS by the end of parliament and also its previously announced plan to provide £3m to train an extra 500 advanced nurse practitioners.

A spokeswoman for the UK government’s Department of Health said: “We need more home-grown nurses in the NHS because they do an amazing job caring for patients, but currently two thirds of people who apply to become a nurse aren’t accepted for training.

“Our plans mean up to 10,000 more training places by the end of this parliament, with student nurses getting around 25% more financial support whilst they study.”

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