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Treasury 'looking' at replacing student nurse bursaries with loans

  • 23 Comments

Ministers could end free university education for student nurses in a bid to boost the numbers joining the NHS workforce, under proposals put forward by national education bodies.

It has been reported in recent weeks that the Treasury is considering changes to the £5bn education and training budget held by Health Education England as part of next month’s comprehensive spending review.

Nursing Times understands one proposal being considered could see an end to the free education for nursing and midwives, with students expected to take out loans to cover the cost of their tuition.

“It would also allow numbers to expand from where numbers are today and prevent some of the contractions that haven’t been very helpful”

Jessica Corner

It would also allow universities to create additional places, rather than be dependent on the numbers commissioned by Health Education England each year.

Moving to a loans-based system would mean more cash support for students than the existing grant and NHS bursary scheme, but mean students would have substantial debts after leaving university.

As previously reported by Nursing Times, the Council of Deans of Health and Universities UK already favour the idea, saying the current system leaves the NHS dependent on what it can afford which contributes to recurrent workforce shortages.

Following the Francis report demand for nurses increased by 21,000 in just 12 months, with NHS trusts recruiting almost 6,000 nurses from overseas up to September 2014.

Dame Professor Jessica Corner, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, confirmed the council had asked the government to make changes to the existing system, which she said was “fragile and vulnerable” to service pressures.

She added: “The current system of workforce planning attempts to estimate the precise numbers of nurses, midwives and allied health professionals that are going to be needed in three years’ time, and what we know is that it is almost impossible to do that and creates inflexible outputs years later.

“We think this would potentially smooth that out so that you don’t have that ebb and flow which doesn’t correspond to what the NHS needs,” she said. “It would also allow numbers to expand from where numbers are today and prevent some of the contractions that haven’t been very helpful.”

“The existing grants based system is unable to meet the costs of increasing student numbers to meet national need”

Universities UK

Dame Jessica added that nursing students currently “suffer quite a lot of hardship” because the bursary scheme was “relatively underfunded”, compared to other students with loans.

“There is an advantage to them in terms of actually being able to live on a maintenance loan worth up to 38% more, depending on whether you live in London or not, and that is not an insignificant increase.”

She said the NHS could consider paying back the loan of nurses who committed to a set period of time and also stressed that the plans were not about getting rid of Health Education England.

“You would want to retain a Health Education England body to be the system steward and have oversight and intelligent modelling of the workforce which is what they do for medicine, pharmacy and dentistry already,” she said. “That is a very important role.”

Dame Jessica Corner

Jessica Corner

Universities UK echoed Dame Jessica’s comments in its submission to the spending review.

It said: “The existing grants based system is unable to meet the costs of increasing student numbers to meet national need. The proposed change would allow for a sustainable increase in student numbers.”

It added that students would receive more support and the change would help tackle a growing funding gap of between 8% and 12% for universities providing nursing courses.

  • 23 Comments

Readers' comments (23)

  • So the student nurses would be expected to attend uni, work on the wards and come out with a big loan debt. Far from encouraging nurses to train and boost the workforce, this move would have the absolute opposite effect. Add to this the possibility that special duty payments could be gone by the time they qualify, there isn't much to encourage people into nursing. Nice one treasury!

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  • “The existing grants based system is unable to meet the costs of increasing student numbers to meet national need. The proposed change would allow for a sustainable increase in student numbers.”

    Of course it is. But this isn't for the reason they'd like everybody to think. Maybe thinking outside the box and challenging whether every nurse needs a 3 year, degree year education, with an essay based curriculum, when a practical, two year diploma would absolutely suffice, if constructed effectively....

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  • The only way I was able to train in London was by living in hospital accommodation and by receiving a wage each week. I do not know how a lot of student nurses manage now, let alone with having no income and a loan to contend with. I personally feel that lack of hospital owned accommodation is one of the reasons why hospitals struggle to recruit

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  • I totally agree with the above comment.
    It would be nice to believe that it would remain just talks, but where the talk comes about the money, it is obvious that it is better to save money than people who need the care by, first, discouraging nurses to enter the course because of knowing that there will be a huge debt after graduation, second, discouraging nurses to leave the profession and do something else as the wages will not allow to pay off the loans. Living your life with the debt aside? And provide compassionate care? The healthcare system wants the healthcare professionals to be sick throughout their lives.
    Perhaps this is the time to explore a new ways how to provide care in England rather than count pennies? Or if education will not be funded by NHS, perhaps it is possile to partly fund it? Whose happiness and satisfaction are they searching for providing these superb solutions?

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  • I know. Why not have an apprenticeship system? Something the government claims to be trying to encourage. The student nurses could do a few weeks - six, perhaps - in 'nursing school', followed by, say, three months on the wards, and alternate this pattern throughout three years of training. They would be useful members of the ward team, expected to learn on the job, from the basics upward, and paid apprentice's wages, of course. Progress could be monitored through a system of exams and assessments.

    At the end of three years they would be qualified nurses, with a corresponding increase in pay, and no outstanding educational debts.

    Oh, wait. I did that. That's what I did.

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  • Way back in the day if I had, had to go to University, get a loan and pay tuition fees I would have chosen a more lucrative career!! I chose nursing as I didn't want to do University. I have since given 27 years service in healthcare. That 27 years would have gone to another profession, I may not be the best or most innovative nurse but I do believe I have made a difference to people!!

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  • DizzySweets

    I'm a student in my third year (nearly there!). I'm a mature student, ten years HCA experience, so going from earning to a bursary has been quite a struggle but it's a struggle I am overcoming, the fact that I have little to no debt after is a relief.

    From what I have witnessed in my degree it's that a great majority of students drop out. Instead of making dedicated student nurses suffer the government should be looking to vetting applicants better. We have people of all ages and creed in our cohort but some people who began dropped out within months.

    One woman kept going to classes the first year only to get her bursary/maintenance and then dropped out! She openly told us this was her plan. It's disgraceful and disrespectful to those of us struggling. I understand preventing this behaviour is difficult but rather than punishing dedication it should be rewarded.

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  • Well said Anonymous on 5-Oct-2015 4:42 pm. Any one who reads your post will be thinking it's me posting. Which I would have done had you not beaten me to it.

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  • What a stupid idea. You'll force students to get into 27 grands worth of debt just from tuition fees, how are they ever going to clear that with a band 5s salary that is likely to have it's unsociable hours cut? Plus we know that trusts aren't hiring for certain posts to try to keep costs down so are we expecting a surplus to help fill that? It's an issue of funding as well as actually having the staff.

    My university's medical faculty has the same number of undergraduates as our nursing faculty. However the teaching staff of the nursing school is 1/7 of that in medicine. Nobody is caring about the quality of our education just that we can have the title of a 'nurse'. The recent intake was so large that they can't even fit them all in a lecture theatre. How about we put in place support for students so that they don't drop out and improve working conditions for nurses so that people aren't just taking the degree and leaving?

    I agree with what someone else said why aren't student nurses given an apprenticeship scheme. After the first year your a band 2 with a care NVQ and the ability to decide if you want to work towards getting your degree and becoming a nurse. It's not like students are actually supernumerary anyway, were always being drafted in. Give us a proper wage instead of using the vocational aspect of the NHS as an excuse to financially cripple us.

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  • What a stupid idea. You'll force students to get into 27 grands worth of debt just from tuition fees, how are they ever going to clear that with a band 5s salary that is likely to have it's unsociable hours cut? Plus we know that trusts aren't hiring for certain posts to try to keep costs down so are we expecting a surplus to help fill that? It's an issue of funding as well as actually having the staff.

    My university's medical faculty has the same number of undergraduates as our nursing faculty. However the teaching staff of the nursing school is 1/7 of that in medicine. Nobody is caring about the quality of our education just that we can have the title of a 'nurse'. The recent intake was so large that they can't even fit them all in a lecture theatre. How about we put in place support for students so that they don't drop out and improve working conditions for nurses so that people aren't just taking the degree and leaving?

    I agree with what someone else said why aren't student nurses given an apprenticeship scheme. After the first year your a band 2 with a care NVQ and the ability to decide if you want to work towards getting your degree and becoming a nurse. It's not like students are actually supernumerary anyway, were always being drafted in. Give us a proper wage instead of using the vocational aspect of the NHS as an excuse to financially cripple us.

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