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Student nurses to lobby MPs as bursary row reaches parliament

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The future of student nurse funding will be the topic of discussion at Westminster today as campaigners demand the government reverses “disastrous” cuts to nursing education budgets.

Students nurses will meet with MPs to share their experiences of studying without the support the bursary before an official debate is held at 2.30pm led by Labour MP and former nurse, Eleanor Smith.

“The disastrous decision to scrap the nursing student bursary has failed both students, the existing workforce and patients”

Donna Kinnair

Nursing Times will be reporting from Parliament and will provide rolling live updates.

The Royal College of Nursing is calling for at least £1bn a year to be put back into higher education for nurses within the NHS 10-year plan as part of the extra funding promised for the health service. 

The college has produced costed plans for funding options, which include bringing back the bursary or introducing “forgivable loans” that will be paid back by the government in return for service.

The government announced in 2016 that bursaries for nursing students in England would be scrapped and replaced with a system of loans and tuition fees.

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Eleanor Smith

Figures show applications to study nursing degrees in the country have since fallen by a third and the number accepted onto nursing courses has dropped by 8%.

There are already almost 42,000 nurse vacancies within the NHS and the RCN warned that without action this could rise to 48,000 by 2023.

Professor Dame Donna Kinnair, acting chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “Every day provides new disastrous examples of how understaffing is crippling our health and social care system.

“Patient care is suffering, services are closing and overstretched nurses are working unpaid hours to keep health and care services afloat. Nursing students are inappropriately being used to plug gaps.

“With student numbers plummeting, nurse vacancies are predicted to rise to 48,000 by 2023 – if this is allowed to happen, it is patients who will pay the highest price. But government can stop this.

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Donna Kinnair

“The disastrous decision to scrap the nursing student bursary has failed both students, the existing workforce and patients.

“The RCN has costed options to help attract and support nursing students, safeguard the future of the nursing profession, and secure the future of safe patient care in England.”

Dame Donna has written the health secretary Matt Hancock calling for him to secure £1bn a year in additional funds for nursing education in the NHS long-term plan, which is due to be published early December.

The RCN noted that student nurses faced “unique challenges” because they had to spend 1,000 more hours on their course than the average student.

“Ministers must substantially increase spending on education and training to avoid a workforce crisis”

Sara Gorton

On top of 2,300 hours of academic study, student nurses were required to complete an extra 2,300 hours of clinical placements over their three-year programme, which meant many were not able to take on a part-time job.

The college warned many students nurses were reporting suffering mental health problems during their course and attrition rates for nursing students was more than times the average.

It added that applications for hardship loans from nursing students had risen by 6% to £3.47m in the 2017-18 academic year, the first cycle that the bursary was unavailable.

Sara Gorton, head of health at the union Unison, is also backing calls for the government to “substantially” increase spending on nurse education.

sara gorton for index

sara gorton for index

Sara Gorton

She said: “The NHS can ill afford to have a shortage of nurse recruits. Fewer people going in to nursing and other healthcare professions will increase the pressure on staff in other parts of the NHS.

“Abolishing the bursary was a mistake, and has deterred people from applying for places as well as from taking them up,” she said. “The next generation of caring professionals are being short-changed by the government. 

“Ministers must substantially increase spending on education and training to avoid a workforce crisis. This should be done as a matter of urgency,” she added.

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