June 8 will be remembered by England’s next generation of nurses and health professionals as the day their professions’ fates were decided.
If the Conservatives win, bursaries for nursing, speech and language therapy, radiology, occupational therapy, mental health nursing and midwifery will disappear after August this year, leaving future NHS students reliant on loans that will leave them with debts of up to £50,000.
Since early 2016, when prospective trainee nurses could no longer apply for bursaries, applications for nursing courses dropped by 9,990 to 33,810 in 12 months.
A Labour victory will see NHS bursaries re-established, heading off a recruitment cliff edge that will deepen chronic staff shortages already exacerbated by low pay and stressful conditions.
Combined with a record fall in NHS nurses from the EU following Brexit – due to European healthcare professionals deciding either to leave the UK or not come in the first place – scrapping nursing bursaries spells disaster for the crisis hit health service.
Just 96 EU nurses began working in the NHS in December 2016. In July 2016, one month after the EU referendum, 1,400 EU nurses joined the NHS.
Meanwhile a third of nurses are due to retire in the next decade, while 24,000 nursing roles remain open, according to the Royal College of Nursing.
Without bursaries those openings will not be filled, explained newly graduated mental health nurse and Unite member, Hollie Roblin.
She said, “Half of our time was spent on placements working full time and we had to complete assignments during those periods as well. If you have to pay £9,000-a-year tuition fees for that what’s the incentive?”
Recent community nursing graduate and Unite member Danielle Tiplady agreed.
She said, “Student nurses work incredibly hard. I was on placements doing 46 hours a week. I did nights, weekends – there simply weren’t enough hours in the day for me to take on another job to support myself. The bursary was a lifeline for me and all student nurses.”
Roblin and Tiplady are not the only ones to feel this way. A Unison survey of 2,000 trainee nurses found that 90 percent would not have taken up the vocation without a bursary.
Shadow health secretary Jonathon Ashworth said, “My long term ambition is for our NHS staff to have the best trained staff in the world ready to deal with whatever they face in the years to come.
“As a first step that means giving those who want to enter nursing, midwifery and allied health professions a step up, not kick the ladder away.
“We will re-introduce bursaries. We will reinstate funding for health related degrees so that people who want to get into health professions – whether they are young people starting out or older students who want a new career after starting a family – don’t feel put off by financial considerations.”
He added, “Labour’s new guarantees for NHS staff will help keep services running at the standard which England’s patients expect.”