You literally could not make up what is happening in nursing and nurse education right now.
If it was the stuff of a spoof fly on the wall TV documentary, people would not watch it because they would deem it too ludicrously far-fetched.
On the back of the removal of the bursary, which has definitely had an impact on the number of students training to become nurses in England, we now have a fiasco over loans.
It seems over 100 students were overpaid their loan by the government-owned Student Loans Company (SLC). The mix-up occurred because the SLC paid second- and third-year students (who were still being funded by a bursary) the full and new amount as opposed to the smaller amount they were entitled to under the old system.
The overpayments range between £600 and £3,900, with the largest overpayments being made to the poorest students who were means-tested, often because they have children or are care-givers.
Now the SLC is keen to get those payments back and wants them now. Despite this being a critical time for students – with many of them trying to get through the challenges of final assessments and exams – the SLC wants to stop the payments owed to these students from now on to recoup the money.
There are nine universities affected by the mix-up, and both they and unions are keen to support their students, who have in good faith budgeted based on what they were expecting to receive.
”Such stress at this time will make it more difficult for nurses to focus on their studies and achieve the degrees that they have worked hard for”
Many students queried the payments initially but were told there had been no error. To have to now pay the money back will be a shock to many and will push a lot of them into financial hardship and add to the emotional pressure they feel.
Such stress at this time will make it more difficult for nurses to focus on their studies and achieve the degrees that they have worked hard for. We need all the students nurses we can to qualify to fix our workforce issues, and we do not need any barriers in the way.
I agree with the Royal College of Nursing that these overpayments should be written off. The mistake is that of the SLC and it – and therefore the government – should carry the burden rather than forcing it back on hardworking student nurses.
Once again, this whole thing feels like a ploy to put hurdles in the way of getting more students to join a nursing register that is already withering on the vine.
The government is in need of a positive PR story around nursing, and surely this is a good opportunity? After the years of austerity and real-terms pay cuts for the profession, is this not a chance to show its human side and defer the payments or just write them off altogether?
After all, if a nurse makes a mistake at work, she or he is punished, sometimes in a public fitness to practise case, and sometimes unable to work again afterwards. But whoever made this mistake at the SLC is not being treated in the same way. Where is the justice in that?
I would at least impose a conditions of practice order. After all, someone somewhere needs to learn how to use the seventh C – a calculator.
In the meantime, there is always a chance for them to show one of the original six Cs – a bit of compassion for these student nurses whose money they have messed up.