From August 01, 2017, nursing and allied health students will no longer have access to NHS bursary. They will instead have to access the standard student support system for their tuition and living fees; in other words, take a loan just like any other student undergoing university studies.
This plan by the Government has resulted in medical students, trainee nurses and midwives taking to the streets in protest. Terming the decision unfair and detrimental to the future of nursing and midwifery, the protestors carried placards slamming the government on their plan. The protestors believe that this plan would make prospective students shy away from joining health education as the burden of a student loan would become too heavy to bear. They also feel that this plan would bring down the quality of care on the long run – with fewer students joining an already short staffed profession.
Chancellor George Osborne and his officials are looking at cost cutting measures to non-frontline areas of NHS activity and funding. Currently, the Department of Health spends £826m every year to fund 60,000 student nurses in England, who are pursuing their three year degree course. This money is part of the £5bn that the department gives to the NHS education and training body – the Health Education England (HEE), every year. This budget is at the risk of being slashed as the Treasury looks for savings and the NHS bursaries is a prime target as the rest of the HEE budget is seen as untouchable.
Universities UK and the Council of Deans of Health have been pressing the Treasury to axe NHS bursaries, while the Department of Health too seems relaxed about this plan, as they feel that too many publicly funded student nurses do not join the profession after graduating. The RCN is of the opinion that bursaries are underfunded and does not provide enough money for the students to live on; hence student loans may be a better option. However, Labour is concerned at this plan of scrapping the bursaries, feeling that the current shortage of nurses would worsen with fewer students joining the courses if they are required to take loans to pay for them.
What do you think of the situation? Is it fair to nursing students who may not be in the same age bracket as a student undertaking other courses – the average age of a student nurse is 29? Would a student from a low income background be comfortable with such a debt? Will this plan create problems in nursing and medical services as a whole? Do you agree with the Governments decision?