Plans to axe NHS bursary “foolish, petty and self-defeating”, says UNISON

The Chancellor’s plans to axe the nursing bursary must surely rank as one of “the most foolish, petty and self-defeating cuts” proposed by the government, UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis will say later today (Wednesday) at a special summit London of student nurses.

Taking place at the union’s headquarters in Euston, the event brings together nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students from across the NHS to plan the next steps in the campaign to defend the NHS bursary that the government plans to scrap next year.

Speaking to the summit, Dave Prentis will say: “The chronic shortage of nurses in this country is causing the NHS huge problems. Many highly stressed and overworked staff are considering alternative careers, the agency bill has gone through the roof, and many hospitals still don’t have enough nurses to go around.

“It would be sensible to assume that with too few staff on the wards that the government would be busting a gut to recruit more student nurses.

“But sadly ministers plans to up the number of student nurses will have exactly the reverse effect. Axing the bursary next year will mean that fewer people from ordinary backgrounds can afford to become nurses, midwives, occupational therapists and radiographers.

“But just as the government got the decision to cut tax credits very wrong, ministers have also underestimated the anger the planned cut to student bursaries is causing.

“The reason for that anger isn’t hard to work out. People know how important nurses are, and can only imagine how difficult their jobs must be at times. Working long hours, with all manner of patients to deal with and illnesses to treat, when there’s often too few of them on duty to cover the shift properly. It’s certainly not a job for the faint-hearted.

“Nursing is a difficult profession that requires lots of training. Student nurses don’t have the traditional student calendar, so find it difficult to work their way through university supporting themselves as most other students do.

“So while other students can work part-time or during the holidays to try and pay their way through university, student nurses can’t – especially if they have children or other caring responsibilities.

“Nursing students are also expected to work on the wards alongside their qualified colleagues, yet without any of the employment rights we take for granted.

“George Osborne’s desperate attempt to make the government’s spending cuts add up mean that the future of the nursing profession, students’ livelihoods and the NHS have all been placed in jeopardy.

“The government will save just under £52m by cutting the NHS bursary, and that’s out of a total annual NHS budget of £116.5bn. Less than a million pounds a week is all that it takes to support our vital student nurses and the future of our health service.

“And while this latest bout of ill-thinking only hits England so far, it could very well have a knock-on effect for NHS funding in Scotland and Wales too.

“There are many contenders for the most foolish, petty and self-defeating cut to come from this government. But this one must surely be near the top of the list.

“It’s only a few years since the Chancellor complained that the roof hadn’t been fixed while the sun was shining. But now he’s punching holes in it when it’s raining, and it’s patients and student nurses who are going to get wet.

“It’s terrifying to think that nursing could soon become a profession only for those who can afford to study it. For those with wealthy parents who can support them throughout their studies, and beyond.

“The last thing this country should be doing – especially at a time when the NHS is under pressure and when we need more nurses – is to load students with huge debts.

“The government should be talking about ways to make nursing a better paid and a more attractive profession. Nursing shouldn’t be a route to a mountain of debt, that will take some nurses, midwives, radiographers or occupational therapists almost until they retire to pay off.“

Note to editors:
The student nurse summit takes place at UNISON Centre, 130 Euston Road, London NW1 2AY from 10.30am-3.30pm on Wednesday 20 January. If you would like to attend, contact the press office. A number of student nurses are available for interview.
The government plans scrap the NHS bursary in 2017, and force students in England to take out loans and pay for their own tuition fees, while working for free in the NHS.
UNISON has calculated this means that students will graduate in 2020 – having worked 2,300 hours caring for patients in clinical placements – with a debt of £51,600 and on a salary of just £22,799.
Allied health professional students currently in receipt of the NHS bursary are studying to be chiropodists, podiatrists, dieticians, occupational therapists, orthoptists, physiotherapists, radiographers, and speech and language therapists.

UNISON media contacts:
Liz Chinchen T: 0207 121 5463 M: 07778 158175 E:
Fatima Ayad T: 0207 121 5255 M: 07508 080383 E:
Alan Weaver T: 0207 121 5555 M: 07939 143310 E: