Julia Charlton is UCU branch chair at Northumbria University, Northern Regional Secretary and NEC member. Here she writes about the importance for UCU members of the campaign to retain bursaries for student nurses.
In the autumn statement, George Osborne announced the scrapping of the NHS bursary for new student nurses, midwives and allied health professions in England from 2017. The NHS bursary supports over 80,000 healthcare students at more than 120 universities each year and the Tories want to scrap it.
Why does this matter to UCU members? Because our hardworking health academics are at possible risk because of the possible loss of NHS commissioned training places at Universities. These commissioned places bring vital finance into the university in millions per year.
Under the current NHS bursary system, no fees are charged and students are entitled to a combination of a non-means tested bursary, a means-tested bursary and a ‘reduced rate’ student loan. This will be replaced with the standard undergraduate system, with fees of up to £9,000 and a much larger student loan for maintenance.
These changes would see students burdened with at least £51,600 of debt, plus interest and any overdraft and commercial debt. This is an enormous sum for many in these professions. Loan repayments will mean a nurse, midwife or allied health professional will lose over £900 in pay a year. A new graduate nurse can expect to earn about £ 22,799 in their first year.
What do students say? “The next nurses will basically be paying to work,” says Danielle, of Cornwall. “And no one from my background is going to think it’s a good idea to get in huge debt for a job where you are never going to earn a lot.” “We know we’re going into a profession where there’s been no pay increase for five years.”
A pre-registration health degree requires significant time spent in clinical practice, including early, late, night and weekend shifts as a normal part of their studies. For example, nursing students must complete a minimum of 2,300 hours in clinical practice over the course of their studies. These changes effectively charge students for working in the NHS. The best asset of the NHS is its workforce. The best way to make the most of this asset is to invest in the future workforce. By scrapping the NHS bursary and uncoupling workforce planning from education commissioning the Government are taking a risk with the future of patient safety and care delivery, and exacerbating the current recruitment crisis.
The Government needs to reconsider these proposals and discuss how best we invest in and support students, rather than making a reckless decision driven by the desire to achieve deficit targets. We’ll be reminding the Government that “people should come before money” (Sir Robert Francis) on the Save the NHS Bursary demonstrations. (Written by Gail Adams, Head of Nursing at the trade union Unison)
How many hospital visits can you remember where the ward or department was fully staffed with nurses, nurses got their breaks and had time for patients?
We have a shortage of nurses in the UK (just for starters 1200 matrons/ very senior nurse posts were cut as was reported recently). So one would think that the government would do their best to attract more nurses and get more people to train as nurses. Instead we have ‘boom and bust’ policies, and possibly unethical recruitment of nurses from overseas from countries that need their nurses too. The reason we aren’t training enough nurses is because the Conservatives cut the number of nurse training places in the last parliament.
If you or I wanted to get people to choose a particular job or career, would we treat them well and make them feel welcome? Or would we – like the government—effectively block a lot of nurse recruitment from abroad, make those from outside the EU leave if they earn less than £35,000 per year, and scrap student nurses’ bursaries, making it financially impossible for many people to train as nurses, especially for mature students with families? For decades, professions like nursing and midwifery have been open to people of all backgrounds. Now, Jeremy Hunt and George Osborne are slamming the door on the dreams of working class kids who want to care.
To anyone with common sense, these measures seem like a sure fire way to make sure as few people as possible train as nurses.
Now this is where government spin comes in: these policies are being sold to us as “recruiting more nurses and student nurses”, as having a lot more nurses than we used to have, and as all being well with the NHS. NewSpeak rules supreme, Black is White, nurse shortages are more nurses, financial hardship for student nurses will attract more people to become nurses.
Clear as mud?
If you and your loved ones wish to be cared for and treated in a publicly owned and funded and accountable NHS now and in the future then please get behind the movement in favour of keeping student nurses’ bursaries. We have already seen the anger shown in the marches all over the country in mid January. This will continue till we win.
But it is not just nurses as the move will mean thousands of student nurses, midwives, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, podiatrists, radiographers, dietetics, operating department practitioners and possibly paramedics will be over £50,000 in debt when they graduate. (Veronika Wagner )
Things you can do:
Sign the petition to urge MP’s to save the NHS Bursary
If you’re a student in the NHS fill in the survey
Get your branch to pass and act on this suggested TU branch NHS motion.