The consequences of scrapping nursing bursaries are already starting to materialise, as shock new figures show a big drop in the number of students placed on a nursing course in England.
Just over 16,000 nursing students have been placed on a course in England so far — an 8 per cent decrease from last year.
Nursing bursaries were scrapped from August 1 and replaced with a system of loans. Now, nursing students must pay tuition and do not receive extra funding for living expenses.
Unions and other campaign groups warned that the changes would exacerbate a growing recruitment crisis in nursing, which now sees 40,000 posts in England vacant — and for the first time since 2008, more people are leaving the profession than entering.
Figures from UCAS published last week (August 17) also show what many have feared — that mature students are turning away from the profession, likely also from the fallout of bursaries being scrapped.
The figures indicate that the number of new nursing students over 25 has dropped by 12 per cent compared to 2016.
The number of UK students who have applied to at least one nursing course and available to be placed in clearing dropped by a massive 35 per cent compared to last year — from nearly 30,000 to just 18,830 this year.
UCAS data from earlier this year also showed that the overall number of people in England who applied to train as a nurse at a university has dropped by 23 per cent.
The government had justified scrapping nursing bursaries by arguing that a system of loans in England would allow universities to provide more places because funding would no longer be an issue.
But as the Nursing Times revealed last month, the opposite in fact is happening at some universities. A Freedom of Information request from the Nursing Times discovered that of the universities offering nursing courses which provided information to the publication, a third are decreasing course sizes for the upcoming academic year following bursaries being scrapped.
While it is yet to be seen what the long-term effect of scrapping bursaries will be, the consensus among current trainee nurses who’ve been helped by the bursary is that they would not have taken up the vocation without the support.
This was revealed in a recent Unison survey of 2,000 trainee nurses, 90 per cent of whom said they would have steered cleared of nursing without the bursary.
Recent community nursing graduate and Unite member Danielle Tiplady told UNITElive just how important the bursary was for her.
“Student nurses work incredibly hard. I was on placements doing 46 hours a week,” she said. “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.”
Adding fuel to the fire in nursing recruitment and retention is Brexit. In June it was revealed that the number of EU nurses applying to work in the UK has plummeted by 96 per cent since the Brexit vote. Figures show that only 46 nurses came from the EU to work in the UK in April, down from 1,304 last July.
What’s more, a third of current nurses are slated to retire in the next decade, according to the Royal College of Nursing.
Unite lead professional officer Obi Amadi argued that scrapping nursing bursaries was always a shortsighted move that will have very serious consequences for the profession and for patients.
“Every worry that we at Unite have expressed about scrapping bursaries is coming to pass — fewer applications as potential students worry over the prospect of £50,000 in debt in a profession where pay has been ruthlessly capped; fewer mature students who may already have personal debts turning away from nursing because they simply cannot afford it, which means patients miss out on the life experience that older students have to offer; and some universities simply offering fewer places.”
“Scrapping the nursing bursary for a system of loans would have had a devastating impact on the NHS even at the best of times. But when the profession is already suffering a massive recruitment and retention crisis because of persistent pay restraint, incredibly tough working conditions as the NHS heaves under massive funding cuts, a major drop in EU nurses coming to the UK in the wake of the Brexit vote, as well as an ageing workforce, with a third due to retire in 10 years, scrapping bursaries is unthinkably bad planning. It’s like shooting ourselves in the foot.”