Unite is continuing to call on the Tories to ditch plans aimed at replacing NHS bursaries with loans amid warnings that it will cause workforce crisis and turmoil within the health service.
Labour raised the issue in Parliament on Wednesday (May 4) during a ‘Save Our Bursaries’ debate which called on the Tories to drop plans to bring in loans from August 2017.
The idea would make courses like nursing, speech and language therapy, healthcare scientists, pharmacists and midwifery fee paying.
These students would be left with more than £50,000 worth of debt if they undertake a three year degree, which Unite believes will deter many potential applicants from pursuing a career within the NHS.
This is despite student nurses working up to 37.5 hours a week on less than the minimum wage for half of their training and graduate nurses starting on an average salary of less than £23,000.
Colenzo Jarret-Thorpe Unite national officer for health said the government’s plans were “a cynical cost cutting exercise that will leave the NHS ever more reliant on costly agency staff”.
“During the 2014-15 financial year alone, locum staff cost the NHS £3.3bn,” he said.
“Abolishing NHS student bursaries will stoke up a future NHS workforce crisis as the prospects of soaring debt will deter many to pursue a career in public service and be a barrier for mature students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds entering health professions.
“The government need to listen to widespread concerns and ditch this policy now,” he added. “Unite members will be lobbying Parliament on 25 May with health students and our sister unions.”
During the Commons debate Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was ticked off for “fiddling” with his phone rather than listening to Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Heidi Alexander.
Speaker John Bercow also criticised deputy Commons leader Therese Coffey, claiming the pair were “impairing parliamentary decorum” by using their phones on the government front bench during the opening remarks of a Commons debate.
Ms Alexander had questioned why health minister Ben Gummer was replying to on the government’s attempts to replace bursaries with loans.
She suggested Mr Hunt did not want to defend his policy despite being sat on the front bench.
Danielle Tiplady, a Unite member and student nurse said, “Heidi Alexander calling an opposition debate on the bursary shows the continuing concern around the removal of the NHS bursary to the future workforce of our healthcare service.
“Please MPs support your nurses, midwives and associated healthcare professionals do not let their dreams and our NHS be shattered,” she added.
Unite represents over 100,000 health care workers and there are currently 80,000 healthcare students supported by an NHS bursary.
Unite, along with other health unions is coordinating a lobby of parliament against the abolition of NHS bursaries on Wednesday, May 25, with thousands of student healthcare members coming to drum up support for the campaign from their MPs.