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'The government needs to bring back the bursary'


While one particular ‘B-word’ has dominated the national agenda for what seems like an eternity, over the past week Nursing Times readers have been much more interested in another topic beginning with the same letter. I speak, of course, about Brexit and bursaries. 

The scrapping of the bursary for student nurses in England has probably been the one issue to unite everyone in nursing and healthcare generally I have spoken to over the last few years.

“The government is in something of a cul de sac of its own making on this one”

I cannot recall having met anyone who thought it was a good idea. Perhaps I’m talking to the wrong people, but I somehow doubt it.

I am sure the government would like the debate to quieten down until – it desperately hopes – the next batch of UCAS figures on university applications show improvement or the much-trumped new routes into nursing – apprenticeships and associates – actually prove as popular as confidently predicted by ministers.

That, of course, is not quite what has happened this month. First of all, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced plans last week to increase bursaries for student nurses in the country to £10,000 a year by 2020-21.

That’s right – increase, not reduce or scrap. As a guide to how this news took the social media world by storm, my tweet about the announcement was seen by over 116,000 people and over 3,000 engaged about it in some way.

Then, this week, the Department of Health and Social Care has been forced to respond to a bursary-related petition set up on the UK Government and Parliament website, after it received 10,000 signatures of support (numbers are currently just under 35,000).

Under its own rules, the government is required to respond to in writing to petitions that pass this threshold. If signatures go over 100,000 it must be ‘considered’ for a debate in Parliament.

Created by Labour councillor and health campaigner Liz Savage, the petition in question naturally calls for the reinstatement of the bursary. She was concerned its removal was exacerbating the nurse recruitment crisis, said Ms Savage, which is not surprising given the statistical evidence.

The government policy to replace bursaries for student nurses in England with a loans system came into effect in August 2017.

Latest figures show applications to study nursing in the country have fallen by 32% since 2016, the last year students were able to receive free education.

In addition, the number of people accepted onto a nursing course in England has dropped by 8% over the same period, while nursing vacancies across the NHS have risen to more than 41,000.

“The government namechecked the usual suspects”

In its response, the government namechecked the usual suspects – associates and apprenticeships again – and also reminded us that it was investing in a “golden hello” scheme for postgraduate students in struggling specialties, which was unexpectedly revealed during a debate in May this year by health minister Stephen Barclay. However, the scheme is yet to start.

Unfortunately, the government is in something of a cul de sac of its own making on this one. The nature of politics pretty much means it cannot backtrack on the policy, particularly as it’s almost certainly already spent the bursary money on something else.

Well, just for once, ministers need to break with this tradition. Perhaps some of the money promised for the NHS on the Brexit bus could go towards fixing some of the damage before it’s too late for the nursing workforce. Bring back the bursary.


Readers' comments (5)

  • This will never happen. The government are purposefully (and embarrassingly) delusional that they are convinced that opening the floodgates for applicants by removing a so called ‘cap’ on placements due to bursary and fees constraints was an effective way of increasing placements!!

    Did that actually listen to anyone?? Where were these ‘placements’ going to be found from?? There are only so many placements, so many teaching sessions and a limited number of ‘actual appropriate applicants’ in the first place!

    Student applications don’t mean they are the right person for the role.. I work on the coal face with these so called students, who are worryingly more adept at being a ‘university student’ than actually a ‘student nurse’.

    How on earth did someone think this would increase the nursing applications? Has anyone measured the amount of student attrition that actually involves failing them positively? We need quality not quantity! Opening up the floodgates is to speak just attracts people who think nursing is just like any other course, with long breaks in the summer, Christmas, Easter holidays etc..

    No.. these people need to be told at the start what is expected of them, and rightly so. Who in there right mind would PAY to work a 40 hour week?! Used as a pair of hands to plug staffing gaps..nursing is HARD WORK and the millennials coming through have high expectations which our nurse ‘training’ is not delivering for them, hence they leave when hit with reality shock..

    Didn’t we expect this? I’m ashamed that our government thought of just saving money from nurse training and badged it as being ‘helpful’ for the workforce. This time bomb is waiting to go off and I’m not sure the government actually cares!

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  • Hi
    I recently started as a Student Nurse, I am 38 year old with 2 children and just found out that I now can't claim universal credit.
    Universal Credit take into consideration my entire student loan and use this amount as income.
    How are student Nurses supposed to survive. A loan is an amount that needs to be paid back not income... It's ludicrous not only am I paying to work full time, I am now getting penalised by universal credit by doing it..... It's crazy... No wonder people are reluctant to come into this profession.

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  • Hello fellow student,

    Financially the course is crippling. I’m in so much trouble financially and my credit score has bombed (not positive I know).

    One thing I would suggest is signing up to NHSP as soon as you can. Trying to survive on placement I’m having to do 4-5 days a week- 3 placement and 1/2 NHSP. It’s really refreshing to work as HCA though as it helps my confidence with what I really have learnt from all the amazing nurses I’ve worked with and it refreshes my goals for placement. I know it’s not practical for all students to work at the same time but if you can manage a shift once a week I’d really recommend it.

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  • To anyone dumb enough to start a nursing course now:
    Would you like to buy some shares in a new business I am thinking of starting? I'll be selling special experimental machines that enable users to spit into the wind...

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  • Maybe a career change for you, John Owen? At first glance, you sound like a rude a**hole. Looking into most of your comments though I see a pattern of unsatisfaction. Why not apply at Lidl? They pay over £10 an hour and you won’t have to worry about the hassle of nursing. Give my sympathies to your colleagues should this be your attitude on duty.

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