Nursing Standard calls for U-turn from Theresa May over student bursary

Nursing Standard urges PM not to scrap the NHS bursary 

Nursing Standard is urging prime minister Theresa May to rethink the abolition of the student bursary.

Nursing Standard is calling on the prime minister to save the student bursary Photo: Getty Images

In a letter to Number 10, editor Graham Scott warns the move threatens the very future of the profession.

Mr Scott joined forces with editors from Nursing Times and Nursing in Practice magazines to write to Ms May urging her to reconsider the government’s position. The letter points to nurses’ concern that the funding change will result in hardship.

Fear of debt

‘Nursing involves long hours, short holidays and comparatively low pay,’ the letter states. ‘Saddling graduate nurses with university debt will badly affect the number of students who wish to take up nursing.

‘Students with children will be disproportionately affected, as will those from less-privileged backgrounds. We will no longer have a nursing profession that reflects the patients they serve.’

Last month the government confirmed bursaries for nursing students in England will be replaced by loans to pay for tuition fees in August 2017. Unions estimate this will mean nurses graduating with debts of up to £50,000.

Extra training places

The government claims its education funding reforms will create 3,300 additional training places for healthcare professionals per year, of which about 2,000 will be nurse training places.

But the Health Foundation charity has urged the government to have a plan in place in case applications dry up because of the prospect of debt.

Health Foundation finance analyst Toby Watt says: ‘We can’t be certain what the future holds. The removal of the bursary must therefore be accompanied by a plan for what happens if the number of applicants falls.’

The government says the changes will give students about 25% more financial support, including grants for childcare, travel and accommodation.

Surge in applications

But Birmingham City University head of adult nursing Kevin Crimmons told Nursing Standard his university has seen a spike in applications for its 2016-17 adult nursing courses as would-be students attempt to secure places before the bursary ends.

‘At open days, students have been very concerned to get in this year,’ Mr Crimmons said. ‘They know this is the last year with the bursary – it means they come out debt-free.’

Our letter to Theresa May in full

Dear prime minister,

As the editors of the UK’s leading nursing publications we are appealing directly to you about a crucial matter for the future of the nursing profession and the National Health Service.

Nurses across the country have told us about their deep concerns over government plans to scrap student bursaries for nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals from 1 August 2017 and we feel beholden to bring this to your attention.

They have told us that it will result in hardship for new nurses embarking on their careers and that – despite what is intended – the plans will lead to fewer nurses and midwives available to care for patients. This is why we have taken the unprecedented step of writing to you collectively to ask that you instruct your ministers to look at the plans again.

As the RCN has made clear, the measure is an ‘untested gamble’ that could drastically affect the care that patients will receive. We note your pledge to establish a fairer country that works for everyone and not just the ‘privileged few’. Anyone who chooses to enter the nursing profession does so with a desire to help others; nurses are empathic and are the first and last line of patient care.

But we need more of them. Many are overworked and struggle to provide the care they would like for patients. Nursing involves long hours, short holidays and comparatively low pay. Saddling graduate nurses with university debt will badly affect the number of students who wish to take up this vocation. Students with children will be disproportionately affected as will those from less privileged backgrounds. We will no longer have a nursing profession that reflects the patients they serve.

Another concern is the great uncertainty among many foreign nurses working in the NHS over the plans for Britain to quit the European Union. On July 21, the House of Lords debated the impact Brexit would have on the NHS and social care, and Baroness Mary Watkins said: “The decision to leave the EU leaves us with serious uncertainty on the current and future supply of the lifeblood of our NHS, the private, voluntary and social care sectors – namely, the workforce.”

This nursing workforce is a precious resource that is at risk of being undermined by these proposals. We appeal to you to intervene and ask for a full review of the impact of both Brexit and scrapping the bursary.

Though we are editors of rival publications we stand united in asking you to think again over student bursaries if you wish to leave a legacy on the NHS to be proud of.

We would be very keen to meet you or your minister to discuss possible solutions. We look forward to hearing from you.

Graham Scott, editor, Nursing Standard

Jenni Middleton, editor, Nursing Times

Angela Sharda, deputy editor, Nursing in Practice

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