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Why is the Government punishing nurses?

Nurses carry out extremely demanding and emotionally difficult work, often for modest wages. So it seems particularly unfair that some nurses may leave their training with tens of thousands of pounds of debt.

Last week I met a nurse living in Bristol who highlighted to me one of the ways the Government is worsening the crisis in the NHS and making life harder for nurses.

The Government has already replaced the NHS bursary for everyday living costs and fees for undergraduate students with loans, which has led to a dramatic drop in the number of people to training to be a nurse. In addition to this, the Government are now proposing to remove the bursary for post graduate students from this September.

My constituent Michael Lawton recently completed a post-graduate course in nursing. He received a bursary to cover the £9,000 fees. He continued to work part-time to cover his living costs, while completing an extremely demanding course, involving more than 2,500 hours of clinical practice. 

Michael was very concerned that postgraduate students entering nursing from this September may be saddled with many tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt, up to a £100,000 in some cases. This is a crippling level of debt to repay on a nurse’s wage.

He told me, “without this bursary the post graduate route would not have been an option for me or my peers and sadly my dream of becoming a nurse would have remained just a dream. Even with the bursary, it was hard, but without it, doing training as a nurse would have been impossible.”

Postgraduate programmes attract students from a variety of backgrounds. The NHS needs nurses with a variety of skills other than nursing and the post graduate routes provide this.

And this is becoming ever more pressing. There are over 40,000 nursing vacancies currently within the United Kingdom. Figures published today show the number of nurses from EU countries leaving the UK has risen by 28% over the last year. Our exit from the EU and an aging population also look set to add to the staffing crisis. Removing this bursary will only worsen the situation.

I urge the government to reinstate bursaries for nurses’ training, and not remove the bursary for postgraduate. The good news is that some of my Labour colleagues are trying to fight this using a rarely-used mechanism known as ‘praying against’ regulations. I will be supporting this.

I believe we should be supporting nurses like Michael, who do an amazing job in very tough circumstances.

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