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Ashworth reiterates Labour pledge to bring back nursing bursary

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth has reiterated Labour’s pledge to reinstate the nursing student bursary, though health and care secretary Jeremy Hunt says degree apprenticeships offer those who cannot afford tuition fees an alternative route into nursing


Shadow health secretary
Jon Ashworth. Picture: Alamy

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth has reiterated Labour’s pledge to reinstate the nursing student bursary, though health and care secretary Jeremy Hunt says degree apprenticeships offer those who cannot afford tuition fees an alternative route into nursing.

Mr Ashworth told Nursing Standard podcast that if Labour wins office he remains committed to reinstating the bursary, which was replaced by tuition fees and loans last September.

Mr Ashworth told #nspod in an edition to be released on 21 February: ‘I want to be a health secretary who is a champion of nurses. It’s why I want to bring back the bursary, so we are training the midwives and nurses of the future.’

Routes into nursing

Mr Hunt reiterated in the House of Commons on Tuesday that degree apprenticeships offered those who could not afford tuition fees an alternative route into nursing.

Labour MPs had challenged Mr Hunt during a ‘routes into nursing’ debate.

Wallasey MP Angela Eagle said: ‘Will the secretary of state admit that he made a basic error by scrapping nurse bursaries.’

No cap on numbers

The number of applicants to nursing courses has fallen by 33% since the bursary was axed in favour of tuition fees.

The government said ending the bursary would allow more nurses to be trained, as numbers would not be capped.


Health and care secretary
Jeremy Hunt. Picture: Alamy

But figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show the number of people studying to be nurses fell after reaching an all-time high in 2016, when the bursary was still in place.

Mr Hunt replied: ‘The point about nurse degree apprenticeships is ​that it is possible to transition into nursing from being a healthcare assistant without any fees being paid at all. That is why it is a huge and highly significant change.’

Incomplete picture

Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Justin Madders said: ‘The secretary of state claimed the removal of the bursary would fund 10,000 extra training places, but the first 5,000 will start only this autumn, and the nurses will qualify only in 2021.

‘With more than 36,000 nursing vacancies in England, more nurses leaving than joining and a 90% drop in EU nurses coming to the UK because of Brexit, exactly who does he expect to care for patients in the meantime?’

Mr Hunt said those comments presented an incomplete picture, adding: ‘In the past five years we have 15,700 more nurses, and the reason for those vacancies and for the pressure is that, as he knows very well, under the last Labour government we had Mid Staffs, which was a crisis of short staffing that this government is putting right. That is why we want to recruit those extra nurses.’

Fastest route

RCN director of nursing, policy and practice Donna Kinnair said: ‘The truth is that the new nursing apprenticeship attracted just 30 trainees last year – there are 40,000 nursing vacancies in England alone and this figure continues to rise. Apprenticeship schemes will never be enough to arrest the devastating shortage of registered nurses, and a nursing degree is still the fastest and safest route into the profession.

‘Yet the current number of nursing applications for the next academic year has fallen by a third since 2016, according to the latest UCAS figures. The government is sleepwalking towards disaster. Ministers are not doing nearly enough to address the nursing shortage and safeguard the future of patient care.’


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