I am absolutely appalled at the Government’s decision to end student bursaries for nurses and Allied Health Professionals. It is not only unfair to those who will be affected, but is likely to result in increasing strains on our health service.
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 deserve our respect, admiration and support. It is absolutely crucial that the Government does not put people off pursuing a career in these professions.
As you're aware, in the recent Spending Review, the Chancellor announced that from September 2017, NHS bursaries for training nurses, midwives and Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) will be abolished and replaced with student loans.
I appreciate how strongly NHS staff feel about this issue and that there is also real concern among many people in my constituency and across the country. Indeed, the 'Keep the NHS Bursary' petition attracted over 155,000 signatures, and was subsequently considered in Parliament on 11 January 2016. During the debate, my Frontbench colleagues highlighted concerns regarding the increased financial burden nurses will face as a result of the Government's proposals. The starting salary for a nurse is just above the loan repayment threshold, which means that nurses will start paying back their loans as soon as they graduate. On average, nurses will be forced to take an effective pay cut of £900 a year to meet their debt repayments.
Student nurses and midwives are much more likely to be women, and more likely to be mature students. Many nursing students have already completed one degree and turn to nursing in their late 20s or early 30s – the average age of a student nurse is 28. Many student nurses have family or caring commitments. The sector relies on mature students and the additional life experience they bring to the role in what is a very demanding environment. Abolishing bursaries will act as a severe disincentive to those likely to be thinking about going into the sector.
Given there is already a shortage of nurses, with some hospital wards dangerously understaffed, anything that risks worsening that shortage is deeply concerning. NHS staff have already been hit by pay freezes and rising car parking charges. It cannot be right for the Government to now try and balance the books off the back of hard-pressed nurses and midwives.
The Government has promised a consultation on the proposed changes. I believe the Government should drop its plans and use the consultation to consider how to both improve the support available to nursing students, and increase the number of nurses in the NHS.