Student Bursaries for Nurses September 2016
Thank you for contacting me recently regarding student nurse bursaries [and the related campaign by UNISON].
As I am sure you are aware, in July the Government confirmed that from August 2017, NHS bursaries for training nurses, midwives and Allied Health Professionals will be abolished and replaced with student loans. I appreciate how strongly NHS staff, and many people in my constituency and across the country, feel about this issue. Indeed, the 'Keep the NHS Bursary' petition was signed by more than 162,000 people.
Nurses, midwives, and allied health professionals work long hours, often in difficult circumstances, and they frequently take a direct role in caring for patients when they are at their most vulnerable. They do so much to make our health service one to be proud of, and deserve our respect, admiration and support. However, it is very disappointing that rather than investing in healthcare students, and instead of valuing them and protecting their bursaries - which have helped with living costs and tuition fees - the Government is now asking student nurses to pay for the privilege of training to work in the NHS.
I believe that the Government's decision to cut nurse training places during the last Parliament has left hospital wards dangerously understaffed, with patient care suffering as a result. I also believe that placing the burden of the cost of education on nurses themselves is wrong and I am concerned that the Government's decision risks discouraging the future frontline staff we so desperately need. Indeed, a UNISON survey of student nurses found that almost 91% would not have applied for their degree without access to the bursary.
I believe that the solution is not to saddle our nurses with debt but to lift the cap on recruitment. Despite the Government's claim that its reform to the NHS bursary will help reduce NHS reliance on expensive agency staff, it has recently been confirmed that NHS spending on agency staff increased by £400 million in the last financial year alone.
As you may be aware, on 4 May 2016 the Opposition tabled a motion in the House of Commons which called on the Government to drop its proposals and instead consult on how it can best fund and support the future healthcare workforce. I supported the motion but unfortunately the Government voted against it and it was defeated.
Thank you once again for contacting me and for sharing your views.