Unions have strongly criticised the government’s decision to go ahead with plans to remove student nurse bursaries in England, saying they are “horrified” ministers have ignored concerns over the proposals.
The Department of Health today published its response to the consultation on scrapping bursaries for student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.
It confirmed it would be introducing the reforms from August 2017 as planned, with pre-registration students now having to take out loans for both tuition fees and maintenance costs.
However, the DH said some concessions would be made, including for a “capped number” of pre-registration postgraduate students who will continue to receive tuition and maintenance bursaries for the academic year 2017-18.
It also said students with children will receive an additional £1,000 of funding a year to reflect that students undertaking clinical placements may have higher childcare costs than the wider student population”.
“I’m genuinely horrified that the Department of Health is ignoring the overwhelming groundswell of evidence about the impact this decision will have”
In response to concerns that under the loans system students would have to fund £303 themselves before being able to claim for travel and accommodation expenses, the DH said it would cover this initial payment.
The DH said it would also cover the costs of secondary accommodation for students attending clinical placements “if the case for educational provision and value for money is demonstrated”.
Unions have said the proposals are a “fundamental mistake” and repeated previous warnings that prospective healthcare students will be deterred from going to university due to the debts they will now incur from loans – estimated to be at least £47,000.
They also said there remained a “worrying lack of clarity” about clinical placements. Concerns have previously been raised that the government’s expectation that 10,000 extra course places would be created could not be achived due to a lack of accompanying placements at trusts and other healthcare organisations.
Unison’s head of nursing Gail Adams said: “There have been some minor concessions made but I don’t believe they will have a material impact on the concerns that stakeholders have loudly and clearly articulated.”
”The RCM unequivocally condemns the government position to push ahead with their plans to axe the student bursary for midwives”
“I’m genuinely horrified that the Department of Health is ignoring the overwhelming groundswell of evidence about the impact this decision will have.”
She claimed the DH had “dismissed” the opportunity provided by the recent political upheavals of the European Union referendum and change in prime minister to pause the reforms and further assess their impact.
“This is something they did not have to do and I believe it will have a critical impact on our nursing workforce,” she said.
Despite the decision she said Unison would continue to challenge the policy and praised students who had campaigned over the recent months for the plans to be dropped.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said: “Nurses will be dismayed that these plans will go ahead with no testing, despite the overwhelming concerns which they have consistently raised.
”Trying to resolve the workforce problems of the past by putting the financial burden on the nurses of the future is unfair and risky”
“Trying to resolve the workforce problems of the past by putting the financial burden on the nurses of the future is unfair and risky.”
“Whilst our members are extremely unhappy with this model, it is positive that the government has listened to some of our concerns including the transitional bursaries for postgraduates and hardship funds, but there is still a worrying lack of clarity on clinical placements,” she added.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Midwives said it had “grave concerns” for the future of maternity services and the midwifery profession in England as a result of the plans going ahead.
Jon Skewes, RCM’s director for policy, said: “The RCM unequivocally condemns the government position to push ahead with their plans to axe the student bursary for midwives and to introduce tuition fees for the first time.
“Ministers have made minor concessions on the cost of placements and hardship, but this does not compensate for the large debts that midwifery students will experience and is not sufficient.”
He said the government had ignored the RCM’s suggestion that loans should be paid back to students if they went on to work in the NHS.
“The plans for England are likely to worsen the current shortage of midwives. Never has there been more demand for the midwifery care because of the rising birth rate. Because these plans are likely to make that shortage worse the RCM believes this policy to be a fundamental mistake,” he added.