A petition set up this week calling for the government to retain bursaries for student nurses has gained 100,000 signatures in support, enough to make it eligible for debate by MPs.
The government must respond to all petitions on the parliament website that get more than 10,000 signatures and those that reach 100,000 signatures will be considered for debate in parliament – though it would probably need to be tabled by a supporting MP.
Support for the online petition, started on 24 November by a student nurse, has skyrocketed over the past three and a half days.
“Taking away the NHS bursary will force more student nurses into working 70 hour weeks”
It was set up the day before the comprehensive spending review, when it was widely reported that an extra £3.8bn for the NHS in England next year would be accompanied by reforms to nurse education funding.
Mr Osborne subsequently confirmed in his spending review statement to the Commons that the student nurse bursary would be replaced by a system of loans, beginning with courses in September 2017 – though precise details are yet to be revealed.
The chancellor argued that the move, which is backed by universities, would encourage more training places to be created and therefore more nurses entering the NHS. But unions warned that the reverse would be the case, with potential applicants put off the profession by being saddled with the prospect of large debts and low pay.
Concerns about the impact of replacing bursaries with loans prompted Staffordshire University student nurse Kat Webb and colleagues from the Keep Nursing Free pressure group to set up the “keep the NHS bursary” petition.
Ms Webb said: “Student nurses often work alongside our studies, like most students. But unlike most students, we work full time hours in placement for around half the year, and spend the rest of the time in lectures, without a summer holiday, or an Easter break, as well as completing our assignments.
“Taking away the NHS bursary will force more student nurses into working 70 hour weeks, as many already do, it will compromise our studies and most of all, our patient care,” she said.