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Health minister agrees to meet nursing students over plans to scrap bursaries

MPs voice support for nursing students during debate over government's bursary plans

The government has agreed to meet nursing students to discuss concerns about the abolition of bursaries for nurse training.

Last month chancellor George Osborne announced all nursing bursaries would be scrapped from September 2017.

He also stated that nurses would have to take out loans to pay for tuition fees and their living costs. 

In a debate in parliament last night, the Department of Health under-secretary of state for quality Ben Gummer MP, agreed to meet nursing students to discuss their concerns. 

Protests against the changes were made outside the Department of Health earlier this month and healthcare unions including the RCN and Unison have voiced their opposition. 

A petition, now signed by more than 147,000 people, secured a further debate on the subject in parliament on January 11. 

Last night, Mr Gummer said mature students will be able to apply for a second loan and said a consultation into the reforms will examine the impact of the changes on mature students, who make up around a third of the cohort going into nursing.

The debate was called by Wes Streeting, the Labour MP for Ilford North, and a former National Union of Students president. 

Mr Streeting expressed concern that the changes could leave nurse graduates saddled with debts of up to £51,600. He also pointed out that because nurses’ starting salaries are just above the £21,000 a year threshold at which student loans must be repaid, they will have to start paying back their loans as soon as they start full-time work.

He said: 'Nurses will on average take a pay cut of £900 a year to meet their debt repayments. That is no way for ministers to treat the people who form the backbone of the NHS.' 

Mr Streeting also questioned whether nurses would be paid for the work they do in hospitals while on placement.

He said: 'Given that the government sees fit to charge students for the cost of their tuition, will the minister confirm whether he intends to pay student midwives and nurses for the hours they have to put into staffing our hospitals? If a private company tried to get workers to work long shifts and to pay for the privilege of working those long shifts they would be rightly condemned.'

Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, said: 'I wanted to share my thoughts as someone whose son’s life, and whose own life, was saved by a student midwife. Does [Mr Gummer] agree that making those people not just work for free but even pay to save the lives of people like me and my son, is simply despicable?”

Mr Streeting added: 'As the saying goes "save one life and you’re a hero, save 100 lives and you’re a nurse".' 

He also said: 'It would be a tragedy if the next Florence Nightingale or Edith Cavell were discouraged from the profession because of these changes.'

Mr Gummer said nursing was the fifth most oversubscribed university subject with 57,000 applicants for 20,000 training places last year. 

The government has said the change will save £1.2 billion a year and fund up to 10,000 new training places, and the Treasury estimates loans will provide students with 25% more financial support during their studies. 

Mr Gummer said it would not be possible, with the current funding set up, ‘to satisfy either the demand for or the supply of nursing places’. 

He said: ‘I want to expand the number of places available to people from all backgrounds to give them the opportunity to enter nursing, and I want to secure the advantages that come from bringing people from non-traditional and disadvantaged backgrounds into nursing, in the same way as we achieved in the rest of the higher education sector.’

Mr Gummer said there will be a consultation on the reforms, but not on the principle of them, from January. 

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