Bid to reverse scrapping of nursing bursaries fails

MPs vote overwhelmingly to press ahead with health education funding changes and switch to student loans

A move by the Labour party to reverse the government’s planned changes to health education funding has been defeated.

On Wednesday (May 4), MPs voted 277 to 158 against the motion called during the Opposition Day Debate in the House of Commons on the replacement of bursaries with student loans.

Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander had proposed: ‘That this House recognises the contribution of student nurses, midwives, allied health professionals and other healthcare staff, has serious concerns about the potential impact of removing NHS bursaries on the recruitment and retention of staff, and calls on the government to drop its plan to remove NHS bursaries and instead to consult on how it can best fund and support the future health workforce.’

In a largely empty chamber Ms Alexander was joined by parliamentary colleagues including Ilford North MP Wes Streeting and representatives from the Scottish National Party in debating the negative aspects of the funding plan.

She accused the government of ‘picking fights’ with health professionals and insisted the loss of the bursary from September 2017 would cause students – especially those from poorer backgrounds – to decide not to train as nurses.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was present throughout, but did not contribute to the debate and instead left the talking about the positives of his party’s plan to health ministers Ben Gummer and Alistair Burt.

Mr Burt defended the plan and said that currently thousands of people who wanted to train as nurses and midwives were being turned away due to a lack of places.

He accused those against the funding changes as ‘resisting change even when the status quo was not good enough’ and insisted there was ‘no evidence’ that loans had deterred anyone from becoming a student.

Before the voting took place Unison’s head of nursing Gail Adams tweeted: ‘#nhsbursary debate finishes and all of a sudden a load of Tory MPs arrive to vote – not interested in debate just to vote’.

Ahead of the debate a number of nursing students from the #bursaryorbust campaign – as well as union representatives – had demonstrated on Parliament Square to show their support for the motion.

The government has only been defeated in an Opposition Day Debate once since 1978.