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MPs urge prime minister to back down on 'disastrous' bursary removal


Labour MPs have called on the prime minister to reverse the government’s “shameful” decision to go ahead with scrapping bursaries for healthcare students in England, after it was confirmed the changes will be brought in as planned from next year.

They described the reforms as “disastrous” and made further warnings that the changes risk reducing the supply of staff.

“If Theresa May really wishes to create a country that works for everyone…then she will abandon this disastrous policy”

Jon Ashworth

In addition, they said that while some extra funding for students with children and for placement and travel expenses had been confirmed by the government last week, these “fall far short” of what is needed.

As previously reported by Nursing Times, the move will mean all new pre-registration nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students starting courses from autumn 2017 will have to take out loans for tuition fees and living costs.

Jon Ashworth, Labour MP for Leicester South, said: “If [prime minister] Theresa May really wishes to create a country that works for everyone, where the concerns of ordinary working class families are respected, and which tackles inequality for women, then she will abandon this disastrous policy that began under [former prime minister David] Cameron.

“It is clear to everyone, except the government, that the loss of bursaries threatens to reduce the supply of future nurses and midwives at a time when patient demand is rising,” he said in a blog post.

He noted that student nurses “fundamentally differ” from students on other courses because they are predominantly female, older, more likely to have caring responsibilities and come from a lower socio-economic background.

Many of these people will be unwilling or unable to take on the estimated £50,000 worth of debt from loans and their “vital contribution will be lost,” he said.

“It is shameful that… the government have chosen to disrespect nurses and midwives when it should be supporting and working with them”

Wes Streeting 

He added that nursing and healthcare students were less able to take on paid jobs outside of their student work due to the time required for their clinical placements, which involves early, late night and weekend shifts.

Meanwhile, Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North, said it was a “complete disgrace” that the government “snuck out” the decision to scrap bursaries on the last day before parliament ended for the summer.

He described the bursary – which means students pay no tuition fee and receive funding of up to around £4,000 a year for living costs – as a “vital lifeline” for healthcare students.

“These changes will burden students with huge debts of at least £51,600, which they will be expected to begin paying back as soon as they graduate because nurses currently earn a starting salary just over the repayment threshold,” he said in a blog for the Huffington Post.

He said that, while some concessions had been introduced following the government’s consultation on the plan, “these fall far short of what we had asked for”.

“Charging student nurses for the privilege of working in the NHS-this is the sort of news a Tory gov sneaks out on the last day of parliament,” he said. “I have said repeatedly that such changes should be subject to full and thorough parliamentary scrutiny and a vote.

”It is shameful that instead of this course of action the government have chosen to disrespect nurses and midwives when it should be supporting and working with them – they deserve so much better than this,” he added.

Shadow health minister Justine Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, said it was “disgraceful” that under the prime minister’s new government bursaries would be removed, adding that it was a “reckless gamble” with the future NHS workforce.

“After a speech promising fairness, one of Theresa May’s first acts is to scrap bursaries for nurses. Disgraceful,” said Mr Madders on social media site Twitter.

“This is the sort of news a Tory gov sneaks out on the last day of parliament”

Justin Madders

Announcing the plans would go ahead in a statement last week, newly appointed health minister Philip Dunne reiterated previous government statements that the move to loans would ensure students have up to 25% more money for living costs.

He also emphasised previous claims that up to 10,000 extra training places could be created by 2020, because universities would no longer be constrained by annual government funding.

He noted that around two thirds of applicants to nurse courses were currently turned away due to a lack of training places.


Readers' comments (10)

  • michael stone

    The headline says 'MPs' and the article points out that it is Labour MPs - it would need Tory MPs to be doing the calling, to stand a chance of influencing May.

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  • I really don't see the problem with up to two thirds of applicants being turned away - it means those applicants who are successful are theoretically the best of those that applied.
    I do see the problem with removing the bursary however, it will massively disadvantage nursing students - given that 50% of the course is based in practice, often working a mixture of earlys, lates (and occasionally nights) all while completing academic coursework (and often over a 37.5hr week!) where do nursing students find the time to secure the part time employment that they'll probably need? add in the shorter holidays and longer semesters and it's a recipe for disaster!

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  • This is going to affect my decision to make a career change following a return to health. At my age, I do not want the burden of over £50k of debt to train and work for the NHS as students, in reality do during their placements. I do not wish to owe over £50k for that 'privilage'. Who is going to mentor these additional 10k students? How are clinical placements going to be figured out. On what level or basis are students going to gain these valuable placements. This has just about ruled me out of the career I wanted to do until I retired. All I want to do is work in a caring capacity, make a difference, but the costs I would personally bare to do that are too great as the plan stands.

    Instead of creating more nurses this is going to do the complete opposite. People should take a stand and not sign up until this ridiculous plan is overturned.

    There has been plenty of professional dialogue on this telling the government it is wrong to take away bursaries - this is not a listening government of the people.

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  • How about we pay the student nurses minimum wage whilst they are on placements. After all they are working approximately 37.5 hrs a week.

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  • I am a practising midwife and hold a nursing qualification, in my opinion the numbers of nurses and midwives in training are dictated by the bursary system and not as a response to service need. Unfortunately the profession is ageing with too few nurses and midwives qualifying to replace those retiring. This appears to have been recognised RCM, RCN and latterly the Government, their response I suspect will be to increase university places however the unsocial hours and lack of recompense may be a big deterrent and fail to address the current and continued problem.

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  • When I qualified 100s, sometimes 1000s of applicants applied for each post, qualified or unqualified posts. Now we are lucky if there are enough applicants for a post to actually have a competitive process at all. That was in the days before click to apply, it was a typed or handwritten letter for each, a stamp, application form and CV. The majority of those applicants were from the UK and trained here, so where have all the people gone interested in healthcare? Is it perhaps the increased pressure, decreased respect from government and employers and terms and conditions of employment

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  • The bursary system was limiting training places now this capping will be removed and there will be more availability. A percentage of those qualifying under the bursary scheme did not practice but used their qualification as a stepping stone to careers in other fields or moved into the private sector. Concerns have been voiced about this by some of the allied health professions for years. Did you know that Police Officers and Fire and Rescue students have to apply for student loans too. Degree entry is becoming the norm for these careers too. The truth is that society cannot afford to pay for free degrees anymore. The evidence so far from those places offering nursing degrees without the bursary is that they had more than enough applicants willing to fund their nursing degree. In an ideal world all public service roles would be free with a commitment to offer service for a time period to cover their training. Unfortunately the economy cannot afford to do this.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous 30 July, 2016 8:36 am

    I think you've summed it up very neatly. Although it might, I think, be possible to afford some sort of scheme where 'if you work in the NHS for 'X years' post-training, you will get some of your training costs refunded'. Although that would be hard to arrange - it would amount to a promise from government, and future governments often tamper with the 'promises of' previous governments. So I think we are now in the situation you described - 'In an ideal world all public service roles would be free with a commitment to offer service for a time period to cover their training. Unfortunately the economy cannot afford to do this'.

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  • P Rogers

    It seems Philip Dunne's claim that 'up to 10,000 extra training places could be created by 2020, because universities would no longer be constrained by annual government funding’ i.e. the cap on the number of bursaries has found some traction here at least.

    The availability of bursaries is just part of the problem, far more significant is the inability of hospitals, community services and private providers to support thousands more students and at the same time ensure both a quality learning experience as well as a quality service for patients.

    Universities will happily provide more course places - they need the money. However, the length and quality of clinical placements is likely to suffer. It will be interesting to see if the NMC has been leant on to reduce the placement hour’s requirement when they eventually publish the revised standards for pre-registration nursing education. Perhaps we will see even more ‘simulation’ being condoned as an acceptable substitute for real practice experience.

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  • michael stone

    P ROGERS - interesting points.

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