An expensive occupation
Anything that puts people into debt and deters them from training cannot be good. So it was alarming to hear chancellor George Osborne’s announcement that the publicly funded bursary is to be scrapped, and that future nursing students will have to take out loans to cover tuition fees and living expenses.
The move means nursing students will face the same long-term debts as other university students, which might add up to £50,000 over the three years of a degree programme – or even higher.
We know that not all nursing students are 18 and entering university straight from school. Many are mature students, perhaps with mortgages and children, or healthcare assistants who are already earning but unable to afford loans. Some go into nursing having already completed degrees, but who with a starting salary of £21,000 would take on a double debt in a climate of pay freezes?
The other side of the argument is the chancellor’s assertion that the move to student loans will create up to 10,000 new training places during the current parliament. The Council of Deans of Health and Universities UK maintain that, at a time when too few students are being trained to meet the needs of the NHS, scrapping bursaries will cut attrition and address workforce supply problems. The council also says that the move will ease financial pressures on students, who often have to take out loans to top up their bursaries.
There are moves to force the chancellor to rethink his decision, including an online petition that has already exceeded the target needed to force a debate. Otherwise we must hope that the change is right and that the children’s nursing workforce – which is too small – expands. If it is not, the dream of becoming a nurse may turn out to be unaffordable for some.
Elsewhere in this issue we examine the role of the key worker in cancer care, and profile nurses improving patients’ experiences in out-of-hours care by taking on tasks previously performed by junior doctors.