No U-turn on nursing student bursary

RCN expresses disappointment at government response to findings of Commons health and social care committee

RCN disappointed at government response to findings of Commons health and social care committee

The government will not reconsider its decision to scrap the nursing student bursary in England despite MPs' fears about degree course applicant numbers.

Sarah Wollaston
Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, chair of the Commons' health and social care committee.

The department of health and social care (DH) makes the point in its formal response to a report published in January of an inquiry into the nursing workforce.

Calls were made for improvements to the recruitment and retention of nurses by the cross-party group of MPs on the Commons' health and social care committee, who took evidence from a variety of sources including the RCN during its inquiry.

Monitoring of emerging problems

The MPs used their report to call for the government to monitor and consider ‘early warning signs of emerging problems’ since the end of the NHS bursary for undergraduate nursing students in England in August 2017.

But, the government argued in its response: ‘The government has been clear the bursary funding system was not working for patients, for students or for universities.’

The DH said the new loan-based funding model was ‘sustainable’ and that healthcare students typically receive up to a 25% more financial support than they did under the bursary.

Patient safety in jeopardy

RCN general secretary Janet Davies condemned the government's decision to press on with loans.

She said: ‘Despite acknowledging nursing applications are down by one third following the removal of student funding, the government has offered no clear solution to boost student numbers, choosing instead to plough ahead with a policy that is increasingly looking like a disaster.’

The health and social care committee, chaired by Sarah Wollaston MP, raised further concerns over falling applications to certain nursing fields. The government's response was that, overall, there are more applicants than available nurse training places.

The DH did say it was working on final details for £10,000 ‘golden hellos’ for postgraduates studying pre-registration nursing in mental health, learning disability and community nursing.

A report on the effects of the funding reforms will be published in autumn, the government said.

Cuts to CPD budgets

The RCN also spoke out against the government’s response to the committee’s call for increased opportunity for nurses to access continuing professional development (CPD) to improve retention. Ms Davies said ‘swingeing cuts’ to CPD budgets was a major factor in failing to retain nurses.

The DH said needed more time to consider the committee’s recommendations.

In its response, the DH also said it would act on the following recommendations by the committee:

  • England's chief nursing officer (CNO) writes to all directors of nursing to ensure nurses are able to safely complete handovers without routinely staying late, and take their breaks. This is despite the committee saying in January 2018 the chief nurse should do this immediately.
  • CNO to establish a nursing reference group to contribute to a new health and well-being framework for all NHS staff.
  • Nursing associates will ‘be responsible and accountable for their actions and able to work independently’ to their NMC proficiency.
  • NHS employees will have first refusal for affordable housing build on NHS land.
  • 1,000 nurses a year will be recruited from overseas from 2018-19.

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