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Nursing students protest at bursary cuts and vow to take action

More than 500 protest outside Department of Health to urge rethink on plan to replace bursaries with student loans

Nursing students crowded outside the Department of Health (DH) yesterday to noisily and enthusiastically protest against the scrapping of bursaries that fund their training.

About 500 people turned up for the Unison-backed event at 2pm, which had been organised by King’s College London Nursing and Midwifery Society.

The RCN students committee was represented, as was the Royal College of Midwifery, which illustrates the strength of opposition to chancellor George Osborne’s decision to replace the grant with student loans from September 2017.

King’s College London Nursing and Midwifery Society president Danielle Tiplady rendered herself hoarse at the protest but said she was happy to have done so for such an important cause.

‘It was incredible to see how many nurses turned up, some from as far as Cornwall and Yorkshire,' she said. 

‘This all started when I got angry in the library one day and decided to organise a protest, which I thought only about 20 of us from King’s would attend.

‘To have it escalate like this was amazing, it was one of the best days of my life.’

Ms Tiplady and fellow student Sophia Koumi handed in a letter addressed to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, asking him and Mr Osborne to meet with them. It is not known whether Mr Hunt witnessed the protest. 

A petition against the bursary cut, started on the Parliament.uk website by Shropshire-based student Kat Webb and signed by nearly 140,000 people, has managed to secure a debate in the House of Commons for January 11.

Ms Tiplady has been in touch with Ms Webb via Twitter and is looking forward to planning the next stage of the protest, which will take place with Unison in Birmingham on December 15.

She added: ‘We are setting up a national committee to take this issue further and will certainly be demonstrating on the 11th when the debate is held.

‘I am also going to create a Christmas card containing a bursary story, which students will be able to send either to their local MP to gain their support, or to Mr Osborne or health secretary Jeremy Hunt.’

Rose Middleton took to the protest's Facebook page to write an open letter to Mr Hunt, explaining she was forced to miss the protest because ‘as usual, I am working’.

She added: ‘I spend, per week, 40 hours on placement in a hospital learning to save lives, or in lectures.

‘This does not include time I need to revise for exams or write the 14,000 words worth of assignments I've been given for the year.

‘The NHS bursary gives me £428 per month, I also have a student loan which I will start to pay back when I graduate, that's for everything: rent, bills, food and necessities, bus and train fare etc.

‘And the average newly qualified nurse is paid £21,500 annually. I'm not complaining about how much work I'm doing, I love my job and I can't wait to become qualified.

‘They say nothing you want comes easy but nursing and midwifery courses are unlike any other degree.’

Nicky Oliver did attend the protest and wrote on the same page: ‘Heard some truly inspiring words today that made me so emotional.

‘You should all feel so amazingly proud of yourselves for managing to rally us all together and your passion really shone through.

‘I'm so proud to be a student nurse today.’

Unison has calculated that a student graduating in 2020 could leave with debts of more £50,000, yet would start out in the workplace on a salary under £23,000.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said of the protest: ‘There’s already a desperate shortage of nurses. Scrapping the NHS bursary will simply make an already bad situation much worse.

‘Many people will be forced to take second and third jobs, compromising their studies and health. Or they’ll be priced out of a career in nursing completely. The losers will be the NHS and patients.’

To read more about Kat Webb's petition click here

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