MPs unite against undergraduate loans plan
MPs call on government to rethink plan to scrap nursing bursary
Nursing students are calling for a meeting with health secretary Jeremy Hunt, as they step up their campaign to save the nursing bursary.
MPs questioned health minister Ben Gummer in a parliamentary debate yesterday about chancellor George Osborne's plan to scrap the bursary in September 2017 and replace it with student loans.
The debate was held in response to a petition in defence of the bursary set up by Staffordshire nursing student Kat Barber. It has secured almost 155,000 people to date.
The government maintains the loans would enable unlimited training places, which would allow an extra 10,000 nurses to train in the next five years. Opponents say nursing students could face the prospect of £60,000 worth of debt on graduation.
Conservative MP Maria Caulfield, a nurse for more than 20 years, told fellow members: ‘The bursary was supposed to compensate the students for their loss of income, but a bursary is not a wage, and it certainly does not reflect the number of hours student nurses put in during their training.
‘The difference between student nurses and other undergraduates is that the starting salary for a nurse is £21,000. Most nurses will only ever be a band 5 or 6, and the maximum they can earn as a band 6 is £34,000. They will never be in a position to pay off their student loan.
‘Many student nurses are leaving before they are qualified. We are spending nearly £12,000 a nurse to recruit from overseas and fill our vacancies, and I would prefer to see that money being used to sponsor nurses to get into their nurse training.'
Labour's Liz McInnes conceded: 'The system is not perfect, and we need to look at it, but let us do it properly and put in place a system that actually works, rather than one that appears not to have been tested or consulted on.'
Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander told members that neither the RCN nor the Royal College of Midwives had been consulted before the chancellor revealed his plans.
She said the forthcoming consultation exercise, which is expected to begin next month, will merely address implementation of the proposal, not the principle.
She said: ‘It makes sense to work with all sides to explore how we can improve the support available to student nurses and increase the supply of excellent staff to the NHS.
‘The government are taking a reckless gamble with the future of the NHS workforce, and with patient safety. The opposition will oppose the plans every step of the way.’
The health minister insisted the government was right to bring nursing in line with the rest of the university sector.
Mr Gummer said: ‘Our proposals are the way to expand places, improve diversity, increase opportunity, especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, improve quality and provide support for those at university.’
He reiterated an earlier promise to meet students, but the student campaigners remain keen to talk to his boss, Jeremy Hunt.
Danielle Tiplady, the co-organiser of last Saturday's protest march in London, said: ‘I want to ask Mr Hunt if he would be willing to pay £60,000 to complete 2,300 hours of training and then work like we have to, caring for people, helping people. I don’t think he would.’
Following the debate, Ms Barber said: ‘I’m glad our views were heard properly in parliament but there is still a long way to go. It will be good to meet the minister, but we still need to change the minds of Mr Hunt and Mr Osborne.’