A protest against the scrapping of free nurse education is to take place in Westminster later today, with more than 500 people expected to attend.
Student nurses from universities across London are planning on marching to the Department of Health in Whitehall to demonstrate about government plans to replace the bursary system with loans from September 2017.
Organised by students from King’s College London, the Save Our NHS Bursaries protest is scheduled to take place between 2pm and 4pm this afternoon.
“I am very fortunate to be studying nursing, but I wouldn’t be here without the NHS bursary”
During the afternoon, they aim to hand in a letter to health secretary Jeremy Hunt urging the government to think again about replacing the bursary with loans and tuition fees.
On their Facebook page, they said: “Healthcare degrees are like no other, we work 50% of the time on placement and 50% in university. Our hours are long and demanding both academically and professionally.
“To have our bursaries removed is insulting and upsetting. Furthermore, these loans will act as a deterrent for people going to university who do not want to be saddled with extortionate debt,” they said.
They added: “Healthcare courses appeal to a wide range of students from all back grounds and these high costs are very daunting. Already people are saying they are fearful of these costs meaning people are losing their dreams. This is not fair.”
Danielle Tiplady, one of the Save Our NHS Bursaries protest organisers, who is studying adult nursing at King’s, said: “Axing the bursary means that many people from poorer backgrounds won’t be able to afford to fulfil their dreams of training as nurses, physiotherapists, or midwives. That saddens me immensely.
“I am very fortunate to be studying nursing, but I wouldn’t be here without the NHS bursary. Everyone should have the same chance to benefit from a wonderful education, and amazing opportunities and experiences.
”If the government persists in snatching the bursary, many people will be put off a career in nursing. Ministers should be trying to find ways of attracting new nursing recruits, not putting up barriers to deter them.”
“Our hours are long and demanding both academically and professionally”
The reforms to education funding for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals were announced by chancellor George Osborne last Wednesday in his autumn spending review.
Mr Osborne said the changes, which could save the government around £800m a year, would remove restraints on the number of places on courses, potentially boosting the workforce by an extra 10,000 graduates during the current parliament.
Universities, which back the move, have also said loans would provide more money up front for students while they were studying than the current bursaries.
But the plans have been criticised by unions who argue that future students will be deterred from choosing nursing, because of the prospect of being saddled with a large loan and a relatively small starting wage.
Unison said it was backing the protest today. Dave Prentis, the union’s general secretary, said: “Nursing trainees tend to be older than other students, and may already have debt to pay off from a first degree.
“They’re also more likely to have families, and are likely to balk at the prospect of going even further into the red, and taking on yet more loans that could take 30 years or more to pay off,” he said.
“Many people will be forced to take second and third jobs, compromising their studies and health. Or they’ll be priced out of a career in nursing completely, especially if their parents don’t have the cash to subsidise them,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kat Webb, a student nurse at Staffordshire University, is campaigning to save the bursaries via a parliamentary petition that already has almost 136,000 signatures.