Hundreds of student nurses protested outside the Department of Health in Westminster yesterday against against plans to scrap nursing bursaries.
The young nurses and midwives were out in force because in his autumn statement George Osborne set out plans to cut the NHS bursary from 2017.
The move will mean thousands of student nurses, midwives, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, podiatrists, radiographers, dietetics, operating department practitioners and possibly paramedics will be over £50,000 in debt when they graduate.
Student nurses work full-time hours in placement for around half the year, and spend the rest of the time in lectures, without a summer holiday or Easter break. Taking away the NHS bursary will compromise their studies and therefore patient care.
In a healthcare system that already underpays staff, the repayments nurses will be required to make on their debt will ensure a permanently poor workforce.
As hundreds of mostly female students stood up for their future colleagues, three student nurses who wouldn’t be studying without their bursaries told their story.
Danielle, the fighter
“Without the bursary, nursing wouldn’t have been accessible for me. I’m from a poor background. For someone like me a loan of over £50,000 is really daunting.”
A petite 29-year-old studying nursing in London, Danielle has had a long journey to get where she is. When she was younger she didn’t have high hopes or dreams for herself. It was a job as a carer that showed her that she had the skills and passion for looking after others, and at 23 she realised nursing was the career for her.
Danielle describes helping patients as a privilege. She feels lucky to be there for them – in the tough times, when she has the skills to help make things better, and in happier times when she can watch them recover and go home.
She becomes animated when speaking about the opportunities she’s had through nursing, which she wouldn’t have had otherwise – from meeting an MP to watching open heart surgery.
Getting here wasn’t easy for Danielle, though, her family didn’t have money to support her and she’s adamant that there are only two reasons she’s got this far: the first is her own hard work and the second is the bursary.
Marina, the young mum
“When my bursary is late I have to take my daughter to a food bank.”
Marina is a smiley 22-year-old mum studying mental health nursing. At 16 she got pregnant. She remembers that the people around her decided she wouldn’t make much of herself. She decided that she would. Marina went back to school, did GCSEs, did A Levels, did an access course, and is now at university.
Marina laughs a lot and says she’s studying mental health nursing because she is hopeful and wants to pass that hope on to others.
She would have been daunted at the prospect of £50,000 debt and wouldn’t have trained to be a nurse without the bursary. Her story shows just how vital the bursary is.
Helen, the pragmatist
“We need the people who really want to be nurses to be able to study nursing, not only the ones who can pay for it.”
Helen is 29 and in her second year of studying nursing. She came to nursing later in life. She has bills to pay and a mortgage and she thinks she’ll start a part-time job soon to help her manage.
The bursary allows Helen to do her job. She’s worried because she thinks the cuts to bursaries will deter people from nursing.