Proposed changes to NHS student funding will mean students could be burdened with up to £65,000 of debt. Under the present system, a bursary allows those without financial means to go on to study and thrive as nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.
Education should be free for all, with grants to cover the cost of living. The proposed removal of NHS student grants in healthcare marks the death of state support for further education students.
Many already struggle to make ends meet, with the rising cost of living and a challenging, intensive course. If you try to have a part-time job – alongside at least 37.5 hours per week in placement or university, plus extra learning hours on assignments, exams or observed practicals – there are simply not enough hours in the day.
Putting loans in place of bursaries will reduce the diversity of those able to access a career in healthcare. Is this what George Osborne meant when he said he wanted to encourage 10,000 more nurse training places? The idea that cutting the bursary will encourage more prospective students into nursing is ludicrous. In any case, hospitals and clinics are already struggling to accommodate students on the wards, so it’s not apparent where these 10,000 students would find the space to be trained, even if they could afford to go on the courses.
The safer staffing recommendation which pushed for a patient-nurse ratio of 8:1 was scrapped this year by health secretary Jeremy Hunt. How effective will nurse training be if the wards are not staffed adequately? As we already experience as student nurses, wards are full to bursting due to the winter crisis, and staffing levels are dangerously low, so existing nurses will struggle to find time to train even more students. Putting current nurses under even more pressure is not the answer to training the next generation of health professionals.
The present state of the NHS for newly qualified nurses is abysmal. Students have to quickly build up a resilience to the unrelenting pressures of targets, endless paperwork trails and the sheer lack of nurses. There are far too many cases of nurses unable to take breaks, sometimes not even being able to use the toilet or have a drink, with stress causing high levels of sickness absence. Pay increases have been capped at 1% until 2020, with no pay rise at all in the previous five years.
To introduce tuition fees and student loans, plunging prospective nurses into debt and forcing them to pay to work would be disastrous. To encourage people into nursing, the government needs to address the issues that nurses are currently facing. Short-sighted decisions to save a bit of money will not help the healthcare service. In fact, these cuts feel deliberate and calculated – almost as if the government wants the NHS to fail in order to be able to sell it off.
This is why the bursary cuts campaign is so important and why we decided to stage a demonstration outside the Department of Health on 2 December. The protest attracted 500 students, healthcare professionals and members of the public from all over the UK. Since then the momentum behind the campaign to oppose the introduction of a system of fees and loans has been incredible; healthcare professionals, students and members of the public have pulled together and united to resist yet another attack on the NHS.
With other students, we have formed a committee to take forward the campaign. Last week we decided our next step would be to hold a march on 9 January, starting at St Thomas’ hospital in London. The public are welcome to join us and show their support for nurses and the NHS. We are considering calling a day of action on 11 January to coincide with the debate in the House of Commons, which was called when more than 100,000 people signed a petition against the removal of the nurses’ bursary.
The bursary is not a cost, but an investment in the health and wellbeing of our society. To lose the bursary would affect not only prospective students, but each and every one of you. Please march with us on 9 January to support our campaign and our NHS.
The People's Assembly will be supporting the March on 9 January. Please join us.
Facebook event page here
Source: The Guardian.