Heading for a Student Crisis/Supporting the Future of Health Professions

Back to all Motions

2008 Health Care Service Group Conference
14 April 2008

Health students across the National Health Service face significant challenges throughout their studies; to become the nurses, midwives, paramedics, occupational therapists, operating department practitioners and social workers of the future. With clinical placements and high course hours on top of their academic work, the knowledge of a secure job at the end is a significant motivator.

Many of these students are facing exploding levels of debt as they try to juggle survival on a bursary with their studies and training. A survey of health students carried out by UNISON in 2007 found that average student debt has risen by a quarter in the space of a year to over £7,000 and the number of students with debts over £20,000 has almost doubled.

71% of students on a bursary are now working additional hours to the 37.5 already demanded as part of their courses and this drain on students’ time is reaching mammoth proportions, with 38% now working over 16 additional hours every week. Many students have to take on further paid work to try to make ends meet.

The relentless deterioration of the situation facing students already leads to high drop out rates and wasted NHS resources. The latest information from the Higher Education Statistics Agency indicates that attrition rates are running at around a quarter for pre-registration courses in health or social care in England. Furthermore the loss of new graduates to the health service means those skills which have been taught for years at great expense to the tax payer cannot be consolidated and may be lost. This could lead to important professionals of the future being lost forever.

As the inadequacy of the bursary system to meet the needs of a modern health system grows ever more acute, the urgency of the case for returning all students to salary status intensifies. Diploma students outside London on a standard bursary currently receive £3.14 an hour and degree students receive a disgraceful £1.24 an hour. If students were to receive a salary at the same grade as payments were made before the introduction of bursaries, they would be paid £14,186 a year – double the highest diploma rate and almost five times the highest degree rate.

Therefore, this conference calls on the SGE to:

1.Continue its review of the NHS Bursary system and seek changes wherever possible including a return to salaried status for student nurses;

2. Identify what impact debt has on student attrition as part of the 2008 survey;

3. Continue to profile the Pay not Poverty campaign using all possible avenues to secure employment rights and recognition for students;

4.Lobby the Government to reassure health students that there will be enough jobs waiting for them when they qualify by introducing a graduate employment guarantee scheme for these courses