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”
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”
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.
- Student bursary removal to go ahead next year, DH confirms
- London mayor calls for ‘immediate halt’ to removal of bursaries
- Axing bursaries ‘dangerous threat’ to patient care post Brexit, warns peer
”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”
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.