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Radcliffe: ‘We should be ashamed of how our fledgling nurses are treated’

Mark Radcliffe

I’ll do the maths. By 5 January 2018, the closing date for UCAS, there had been 32,520 applications to study nursing. A year before there had been 48,230; that means 15,710 fewer people applied to do nursing in 2018. If that trend continues there will be around 16,810 people applying to study nursing in 2019. In 2020 there will be 12. Twelve people will apply to study nursing

Of those 12, only nine will begin the course. One of them will not pass the maths test (despite my offering to help them and being demonstrably very good at maths), one will change their mind at the last minute and decide to go travelling with their boyfriend Tom. The chief nursing officer will try to stop her, rugbytackling her on the Newhaven ferry and pleading with her to stay. The third person – we will call him Ralph – will decide to do geography instead. His mother, a nurse of some 23 years, will be so relieved she will buy him a poster with lots of different clouds on it.

So, in 2020, nine people will begin their nurse training. Everyone will know their names. Two of them will be doing mental health nursing. We will all worry about them very much. A lot will be expected of these nine people. They will have to pass modules, exams and accumulate competencies. Three of them will work with a nurse called Janet who will tell them that their training is far easier than it was back in her day (1972) when student nurses had subsidised accommodation, salaries, guaranteed jobs and free bus travel. One of those three students will be called Tanya. Tanya will be accumulating £14,000 of debt each year, have two part-time jobs and will have to pass competencies in things she will Mark Radcliffe never ever do again. At the end of her training she will have to sell body parts so she can register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Tanya will put Janet in the sluice. Nobody will mind.

Halfway through the course, three of the 2020 cohort will begin to have doubts about their chosen profession. They will feel unable to do the job they had hoped to. The lack of beds, resources, equipment, walls and other students, along with £28,000 of debt, force one of them to go to her personal tutor for support and advice. He gives her 52% for her last essay and suggests she read more Peplau. She leaves nursing to become a member of the cabin crew with Eurowings. Six weeks later her tutor writes to her to ask if she could get him a job.

So six people from the 2020 cohort will complete their training. One will instantly take up a post with a drug company. Three of them take jobs with the NHS. They will have plenty of choice, indeed every chief executive in the country will visit them and bring cake. The chief execs will run the hoover round and promise to do their ironing for them every Sunday if only they will come and work for their trust.

In 2021, nobody will apply to study nursing. In 2022, -12,043 people will apply to study nursing.

Removing the bursary was an attempt to save money and fund nursing faculties appropriately. If you make sense of the world via a spreadsheet there is a naive argument that suggests it makes sense. If you look beyond that to the wards, the profession, the student experience and the mentality of nursing, it was always ridiculous. Call it an experiment, a practical joke, a mistake. Call it what you like but we should stop it now. We are throwing our young under buses and calling it good economics. We should be ashamed.

Mark Radcliffe is author of Stranger than Kindness.

Follow him on twitter @markacradcliffe


Readers' comments (16)

  • As a 3rd year student mental health nurse, I was the last to get the bursary. I could not do the course without it. This is an amazing, funny, insightful article and also sadly true.

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  • It is getting to this point.
    The government insistence on increasing uni places by cutting bursaries is now clearly the joke we all thought it was.
    Most trusts are seriously worried about the future of the workforce now!

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  • I have seen some of the maths tests they have to do, I would have failed miserably. Were my generation of nurses (qualified 1984) so bad that they had to make today's trainees jump through hoops and aim at ever-changing goal posts to achieve a pass?

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  • Catherine, I would have failed too!

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  • Very poignant, funny and worst of all a realistic portrayal of the future of nursing.

    And can I add my SafeMedicate exams were ridiculous. The expectation of working out drip rates without a calculator or iv pump is something I've never had to do as a registered nurse

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  • As a mature 3rd year student, I wouldn't have been able to complete this course with the bursary. This last 3 years has been the most stressful and hardest period of my life.

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  • Very relatable article! Does really make you worry about the future of nursing :( Mark was a wonderful personal tutor when I was studying- but I remember even with the bursary it was very very hard! I feel sorry for nursing students now with all that extra debt :(

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  • I agree with Catherine as I qualified a bit earlier and didn't realise I had made such a bad job of my career. If I had to try and get into Nursing now I wouldn't be able to, academic achievement has never been my strong suit, and while maths is still not my strong point either I have been able to calculate the drug and fluid doses I needed to over the years safely but I very much doubt I could pass the maths bit either. Looks like by 2020 it will be the robots looking after me in my dotage

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  • This is the most humorous post I have read for a long time, however, sadly, not a truer word spoken in jest 😞

    Why can’t they offer 0% personal loans to the nursing and allied students to encourage enrolling on to the courses and upon passing their yearly assessments and exams have that years loan paid off directly to the loan company ie DHS DHSS DHSC
    (what ever they wish to call themselves these days along with extortionate re printing costs of all new letter heads and stationary requirements to match, how many bursaries would that have covered?)

    If the student fails to complete the course or decides to leave part way through then they should still have to re pay his or her loan as of course happens today.

    Not only would this encourage good quality students to apply and continue through to graduation but would help to prevent students leaving part way through the course having the knowledge of having to reimburse the fees perhaps even a minimum employment period after graduation to further protect the financial investment,
    win win situation

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  • Great article Mark and so true. Future of nursing is going down the drain. through the government's stupidity and false economy.

    I had a lovely student her first placement, she was a true natural; but the hurdles she has to go through is unbelievable.

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