Changes in pre-registration nurse training could see the funding of nurse education facing a radical overhaul.
The government is set to scrap the current model of funding for nursing students.
Under the present system, diploma students receive non means tested bursaries, while nursing degree students are means tested. This system is said to limit poorer students’ access to degree courses.
The means testing debate is set to intensify as the profession heads for degree-only entry. All pre-registration courses will be degree-only from September 2011.
A consultation, which would have set out a number of options for a new funding model, was to be launched later this month.
But Nursing Times understands that the timetable for the consultation could be put back because the government has yet to reach agreement with nursing unions on the funding proposals.
At present, the government is understood to be considering consulting on nine options for future student nurse funding.
Its plans include proposals to introduce a single loan for all students. This would not have to be repaid by those who committed to working in the NHS for two or three years after they had finished training.
These ‘forgivable loans’ are used in the US for teachers and social workers. They have been used in England for the same groups, although not on a national basis.
Loans could be calculated using the Rowntree model, a funding formula used by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to calculate living costs. This could cost the government an estimated £780m extra a year.
A further proposal could see student nurses having to fund themselves through a part bursary, part loan model. Some of the funding would have to paid back to the government with interest, as with the student loan system.
However, a literature review commissioned by the Department of Health from London South Bank University and seen by Nursing Times has warned that ‘debt aversion’ has been stopping people from ‘non-traditional backgrounds’ training to become nurses.
The review said: ‘Any system that does not cover the full cost of fees and reasonable living will result in students undertaking term-time working, building up commercial debt… this is likely to disadvantage non-traditional students more than average.’
Professor David Sines, lead author of the review and former executive dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Care at the university, said it was important the government ensured that, once nursing moved to an all-graduate profession, the ‘widest possible pool of applicants’ would still be able to train to become nurses.
‘We also need to provide the highest incentive to ensure financial support for students,’ he said. ‘The results of this review show that students do require more money and they do not want to be means tested.’A DH spokesperson said that a steering group would ‘take forward the review’.
‘The group are developing and analysing options for the future of NHS student support and assessing how well they meet the aims of the review,’ he said.
‘The options include bursaries and loans – means tested and non means tested – and employed status, and combinations of these.
‘Once the initial assessment is complete, we will consult widely on the options. At present we plan to launch this consultation at the end of July. This timetable has been agreed with the stakeholders, including the RCN and Unison,’ he added.
Gail Adams, head of nursing at Unison, said: ‘We are trying our best to ensure that the consultation is fit for purpose and that it is ready to be published by the end of July.’
As Nursing Times reported in January, prime minister Gordon Brown promised he would investigate the fairness of means-tested bursaries for degree-level nursing courses.