Government plans to axe student nurse bursaries and replace them with a system of loans are “foolish, petty and self-defeating cuts”, according to Unison general secretary Dave Prentis.
The proposals, announced by chancellor George Osborne in his autumn statement, have so far sparked two protest marches by student nurses and a debate in the Commons.
“Axing the bursary next year will mean that fewer people from ordinary backgrounds can afford to become nurses”
Universities and the government have predicted the change will remove financial barriers constraining the number of places on nursing courses. But students and unions have warned that potential applicants will be put off studying nursing in future because of the debt associated with a loans system.
Speaking at a special summit on the issue later today, Mr Prentis will launch Unison’s latest attempt to reverse the plans, which are yet to be consulted on or laid out in detail.
He will say: “Axing the bursary next year will mean that fewer people from ordinary backgrounds can afford to become nurses, midwives, occupational therapists and radiographers.”
The union leader will also use the event to warn the government that it has “underestimated the anger the planned cut to student bursaries is causing”. In addition, he will reiterate the differences between nursing degrees and other subjects.
“Student nurses don’t have the traditional student calendar, so find it difficult to work their way through university supporting themselves as most other students do,” he will say at the conference in London.
“While other students can work part-time or during the holidays to try and pay their way through university, student nurses can’t,” he will say. “Nursing students are also expected to work on the wards alongside their qualified colleagues.
“The last thing this country should be doing – especially at a time when the NHS is under pressure and when we need more nurses – is to load students with huge debts,” he will add.