I recently talked at a fringe at the NUS Conference on behalf of Unison on a topic that impacts upon all of us as student nurses; that of the state of financial support given to nurses in training.
I called it a national crisis. And it’s easy to see why this is true. The fact is that some students receive as little as £80 per month in bursary.
This contributes to us often having to 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. We work Bank Holidays, Christmas, New Year. A single 12-hour shift on top of placement could mean that we work fifty hours a week. Add to that our study time and it becomes obvious why we are often exhausted.
About 6 months ago I started a petition which asks for the situation to be reviewed, and the response has been staggering. At the last count there were over 10,000 signatures, and thousands of comments from fellow student nurses who outline their experience. One comment in particular resonated with me:
“I’m signing because I’m a student nurse in my second year and I’m really struggling with finances. When I’m on placement I work around 62 hours a week, I am increasingly tired all the time, my relationship is hanging on by threads and I have no social life at all. I receive 180 pound a month therefore I have no choice other than to work so much, in the long run this has also affected my work. I would never do the course again and would never recommend the course to anyone due to the financial issues.“
This, sadly, is not unusual. Andy Burnham, the shadow Secretary of State for Health, recently described talking to student nurses who had to visit food banks so they could eat, as they couldn’t afford to buy food.
The struggle we face is that we have to compromise our academic achievement, and sometimes our health, to survive financially. We have to choose between spending our day off working on assignments or doing an extra shift in order to pay the rent. We are forced to decide what is more important - keeping our evidence up to date or putting petrol in the car?
We don’t want to be forced to abandon the career we’ve worked hard to achieve because we simply can’t afford to carry on. Attrition in student nursing is costing the UK a huge amount, around £90 million a year.
Research by the Royal College of Nursing shows that the main reason for leaving nursing training was due to financial worries. It makes perfect sense to look at the issues with how we are funded, and to make change, allowing us a living bursary to recognise our contribution to the NHS during our training. Unison are campaigning actively on behalf of all student nurses. We don’t become nurses for the money, but that doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable for us to be taken advantage of either.
We care passionately about the profession we are joining, and work hard both in practice and academically. I’m sure everyone has heard stories about staffing shortages in our health system, and these shortages affect us too. We are supposed to be supernumerary when we are on placement but this simply isn’t feasible in the current climate where we are being used to fill gaps in numbers. This isn’t the example we should be setting to those will be caring for you in the future; do you want a nurse who spent their training exhausted, using their days off to work to make ends meet? Or do you want a nurse who was able to be the best they could, without the added stress of financial worries?
I am campaigning for an introduction to nursing which doesn’t see a person financially crippled. Nurses and nursing students want to feel as though as our contribution is valued, that we receive a bursary that acknowledges the work we put in, and that we are able to become nurses who had to time to both care and learn in our training. We want to be safe practitioners that have the best knowledge available when caring for you and your relatives. We want to qualify without huge bank loans, constant sacrifices, and feeling burned out, to be able to have a work-life balance that allows us time to consider the care we are giving, develop and keep the 6Cs at the heart of our practice. I believe a living bursary would go a long way in helping us to achieve this.
Katherine Webb is a student adult nurse, studying at Staffordshire University