If the NHS bursary goes, it will put the future of our health service at risk

Today the Save NHS Bursary lobby is taking place in Westminster, calling on the government to reverse its plan to axe support for student nurses, midwives and others training to become health professionals.

As the UK’s largest health union, UNISON has been at the forefront of this campaign from the outset, working alongside other campaigns to stand up for the nursing profession against this most foolish and self-defeating of cuts.

At a time when our NHS faces a nursing shortage (due in part to mismanagement and attacks on the profession), the government should be pulling out all of the stops to attract more people into careers in the health service.

Yet an independent economic analysis released today – and commissioned by UNISON and the NUS – shows that the government axing bursary funding for students on nursing, midwifery and other health degrees will mean around 2,000 fewer people will study for a career in the NHS every single year. The impact on a health service already under pressure could be devastating.

The net result will be:

  • Student nurses, midwives and other vital NHS staff graduating with nearly £50,000 worth of debt.
  • Fewer potential health workers entering training due to the burden of debt (especially when the starting salary for many of them is relatively low).
  • That in turn will lead to universities being worse off (as fewer students take their nursing courses) and potentially even the end of some nursing courses altogether.
  • And rather than this cut saving money (as the government claims), few health workers will repay the entirety of their student debt over the course of their working lives – and the burden of additional agency staff (and overseas recruitment costs), thanks to a continued and worsening nursing shortage, means this ham-fisted attempt to save money will end up costing the taxpayer more money.

So that’s more debt for health workers, fewer nurses in our overstretched NHS and a higher cost to the taxpayer.

There’s a reason why we’ve called this a foolish cut.

Of course there’s still time for the government to think again, to step back from the brink, and support our health service for future generations. Because the alternative is ministers blundering onwards, and putting the future of our health service at risk, once again.