Scrapping nursing bursary 'could cost NHS 2,000 recruits a year'

Research says new student loan system will force trusts to use agency staff to make up shortfall

Government plans to scrap the bursary for nursing, midwifery and other health students could cost the NHS 2,000 new recruits a year, a new report has warned.

Research commissioned by Unison and the National Union of Students (NUS) says the proposed replacement of the existing bursary with student loans from August 2017 will force employers to rely on agency staff or look overseas to make up an ‘inevitable’ shortfall in recruits.

The report, which coincides with a Save NHS Nursing Bursary lobby in Westminster, says the change will mean huge debts for students who do graduate, and a potential drop in the number of health courses offered by universities.

The government claims the proposals will fund up to 10,000 more training places by 2020 and provide students with around 25% more financial support.

Yet the study by economics consultancy London Economics found that:

Nursing and midwifery students could graduate with debts of just under £49,000 after 2017, compared with almost £7,000 at present.

Rather than creating 10,000 new places, the increased costs could lead to a 6-7% reduction in applications – the equivalent of about 2,000 graduates a year.

Universities could be up to £77 million worse off per student intake, due to declining student numbers and universities earmarking cash from tuition fees for programmes agreed with the Office of Fair Access (which regulates access to higher education).

Nursing and other health students tend to be older and earn less after graduating than other students, so is is likely they will be able to pay back less than others, reducing the estimated £534 million saving per student intake to around £88 million.

Fewer graduates working in the NHS could mean a £100 million increase in spending on agency staff and overseas recruitment per student intake.

Unison head of Health Christina McAnea said: ‘The government claims there are huge savings to be made from scrapping the bursary, but this analysis suggests the reverse is true.

‘The NHS already has too few nurses, scrapping the bursary will make an already difficult situation much worse. With too few staff on the wards, the impact on patient safety could well be disastrous.’

The RCN has called on the government to drop the proposal, warning that it places the future of nurse education funding at ‘grave risk’.



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