We must unite as a profession to save the NHS student bursary

Nursing student Charlotte Humm explains why the demise of the NHS student bursary will be devastating for nursing students, the profession – and patients

As many of you will know by now, the bursary scheme for students hoping to train to be nurses, midwives or allied health professionals has been abolished. Chancellor George Osborne announced it is to be replaced by tuition fees and loans.

Mr Osborne says the change will mean more nurses. What he doesn't say is it will be devastating for nursing students, who study in a different way to students on other university courses. Half of the nursing course involves the scientific and sociological underpinning of nursing, including evidence-based care that all nurses practise. The other half is spent on hospital wards and in the community, learning the clinical and communication skills that are essential to the profession.

Most people who train to be nurses do not do it for the money, or the accolades. They do it because they care about looking after people. Nursing is a tough job, and the demanding course weeds out those who are not cut out for it.

The nursing profession has progressed tremendously in relation to education, with nurses taking on many responsibilities, and operating equipment and technology that keeps people alive. Hospitals with a majority of university-educated nurses are more likely to have lower mortality rates because we are taught extensive skills in identifying patients who are deteriorating. In doing so, we can better assist our doctor colleagues.

The bursary provides those without financial means the opportunity to study, and to thrive as nurses, midwives or allied health professionals. The changes to funding will mean students potentially having to pay off £64,000 of debt after qualifying, and severing ties with the NHS itself. Many already struggle to make ends meet, with the challenging course and cost of living, most turn to part-time jobs to support themselves. Education should be free for all.

Replacing bursaries with loans means the diversity of those wanting a career in healthcare will diminish. Is this what George Osborne meant when he said he wanted to encourage 10,000 more people into the profession? This idea that scrapping the bursary will encourage more students into nursing is, frankly, ludicrous. Hospitals and other healthcare organisations already struggle to accommodate students in clinical practice, and it seems like no thought has gone into where these 10,000 students would be distributed.

It is well documented that wards are full to bursting and staffing levels are dangerously low. How effective will nurse training be if wards are not adequately staffed?  Putting registered nurses under even more pressure than they already are is not the answer.

In response to the bursary cut, there was a demonstration outside the Department of Health on December 2. The instinctive reaction of Danielle Tiplady, president of the King’s College London Nursing and Midwifery Society, who created the ‘Save our NHS Bursaries’ event, resulted in a national campaign against the change, garnering support from the RCN, Royal College of Midwives, Unison, Unite and other university societies. Junior doctors, who recognise the support they have received from nurses, midwives and allied health professionals, are also supporting the campaign.

The NHS and its workers are starting to become a force to be reckoned with, refusing to be divided by short-sighted government decisions that affect them, and those they care for.

About the author
Charlotte Humm is a third-year children’s nursing student at King's College London.

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