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Chancellor confirms nurse education funding reform


Chancellor George Osborne has confirmed that nurse education will in future be funded via a system of loans, rather than bursaries.

The move, announced today in the government’s comprehensive spending review, had been expected in the wake of revelations yesterday about a major cash injection for the NHS in England.

Today’s spending review confirmed that the government would give NHS England a real-terms budget increase of £3.8bn in 2016-17, representing a frontloading of the extra £8bn it has promised the health service by 2020.

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The chancellor said the total NHS England budget would rise from £101bn now to £120bn by 2020. Meanwhile, he added that the rest of the Department of Health budget would fall by 25% – likely to mean less money for bodies such as Public Health England and Health Education England.

In his statement to the Commons today, Mr Osborne said: “We have been increasing spending on the NHS in England. In this Spending Review, we do so again.

“We will work with our health professionals to deliver the very best value for that money. That means £22bn of efficiency savings across the service,” he said.

“We’ll replace direct funding with loans for new students – so we can abolish this self-defeating cap”

George Osborne

“It means a 25% cut in the Whitehall budget of the Department for Health. It means modernising the way we fund students of healthcare,” he added.

Mr Osborne promoted the controversial move from bursaries to loans by arguing that it would potentially allow universities to fund more places on courses, rather than being constrained by money being made available for places by Health Education England, as is currently the case.

The Council of Deans of Health and Universities UK, which lobbied the government for the change, have both previously argued that loans would give them more flexibility, potentially enabling universities to run more places on their nursing courses.

However, unions have argued the opposite, saying that saddling nursing students with large loans to pay off in future will act as a disincentive to many.

In his statement, Mr Osborne said: “Today there is a cap on student nurses; over half of all applicants are turned away, and it leaves hospitals relying on agencies and overseas staff.

“So we’ll replace direct funding with loans for new students – so we can abolish this self-defeating cap and create up to 10,000 new training places in this parliament,” he told MPs.

It is understood that the move to loans is unlikely to affect any students currently in the middle of courses. The Council of Deans has told Nursing Times that it expects the change it will affect new students from 2017-18.

“There is one part of our NHS that has been neglected for too long – and that’s mental health”

George Osborne

The government currently spends around £800m a year on student nurse bursaries and tuition fees. This compares to around £3.5bn spent on junior doctor salaries.

Regarding overall funding for the NHS, the chancellor suggested the additional money announced today would be sufficient to pump-prime the new models of care proposed in NHS England’s five-year plan for the health service – the Five-Year Forward View.

“This fully funds the Five-Year Forward View that the NHS itself put forward as the plan for its future,” he said.

But, as widely expected, he added that in return for the funding, the government would also expect to see a “brilliant NHS available seven-days a week” – referring to the policy outlined earlier this year to boost access to primary care during out-of-hours periods and improve hospital outcomes at weekends.

Meanwhile, the chancellor also announced extra investment in mental health services, including cognitive behavioural therapy.

He said: “There is one part of our NHS that has been neglected for too long – and that’s mental health.

“In the last parliament we made a start by laying the foundations for equality of treatment, with the first ever waiting time standards for mental health,” he said.

“Today, we build on that with £600m additional funding – meaning that by 2020 significantly more people will have access to talking therapies, perinatal mental health services, and crisis care,” he added.

More details, reaction and analysis to follow on the Nursing Times website.


Readers' comments (18)

  • Will there be more flexibility in courses for example part time, ou or sponsorship from employers to aid those who can not access a loan (due to having already completed a degree for example), those who are mature independant students, those who are parents, those who simply can not afford it otherwise? As a single parent, mature independant student, having completed a degree previously to find there were no jobs, and so changing career to do a job which has been my dream. i would not have been able to do this without the student bursary and the support with childcare. The course is not flexible, there is no scope to work alongside it with a child, and there is no support from elsewhere for childcare. This move prevents and will put off a lot of people from a career in nursing, especially as they will qualify and then be paid pittance or often nothing for their extra hours. I could go on about the quality of nursing students (age, maturity,experience)now there will be more places, the quality of teaching also.

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  • As a doctor I came to read this article and lend my support to nurses regarding the loss of salaries. However I don't see the need for the inflammatory statement regarding junior doctor salaries in the final statement and what bearing this has on nurses bursaries. We should stand together as one profession supporting each other through the tough times that are ahead of us in the NHS.

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  • No surprise there. Well, the way nurse salaries are going they will never earn enought to repay student loans! On a serious note, this will be a major disincentive for anyone contemplating starting a nursing course. Why bother when the working conditions are dire and getting worse. If you are spending money on a university course choose something that you will enjoy and will bring greater financial reward, opportunity for personal advancement and allow you to get on a do a good job every day. Sadly, nursing in the NHS has eroded all of the above workplace benefits.

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  • Andrew Dawson

    More uncertainty for the progression of Assistant Practitioners.

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  • Grief, definitely don't want to see more loans.
    I agree that bursaries should be scrapped.....
    and replaced by being paid a decent wage for the hours worked in clinical practice and undergoing clinical training.

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  • Will the change to bursaries be in place for march start 2017? Where could I find out the details?

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  • If student nurses are to seek their own finances ie loans to partake in nursing education does this mean in absence of NHS bursary the student can opt to complete their practical placements in non-NHS establishments ie care homes which nowadays offer mass variety of specialisms!

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  • what will happen is the nhs will have less nurses coming into the trade and we'll end up recruiting from abroad.
    Heath care assistants will then be pushed to take on more responsibilities as qualified staff struggle to cope! Safety standards down the drain, quality out the window, commissioning standards not met, nhs is then again regarded as a failure and there you are, dear George has set the platform to say there's only one way out, sell-privatise the NHS!!
    we see right through this scam!
    How do I know? I AM a nurse and we cope with this rubbish everyday!!!

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  • well there we go then , a future without nurses.

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  • This will cripple prospective students from applying. Who wants the ridiculous amount of debt that these student loans bring. Plus it will make it more difficult for those with children or mature students to study nursing, especially if you have a previous degree. It limits the chance for people to turn to nursing as a career. So they're saying universities can offer more places, so exactly where are these students supposed to go when on placement?! The wards are already saturated with students and it can limit how much support can be offered if you're looking after more than one student.

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