Health workers and charities unite to urge rethink on NHS bursaries

More than 20 health unions, charities and professional colleges sign open letter to prime minister

Health workers and charities got together today to warn the government that its plans to abolish NHS bursaries and introduce student loans for those studying to become health professionals in England risks reducing the supply of vital health workers, when they are needed more than ever.

They warn that the plans are “a short-sighted attempt to solve a long-term and complicated problem.

“Moreover,” they warn, because the plans have not been properly risk-assessed, “continuing with them as they currently stand would be nothing short of reckless”.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis joined representatives from more than 20 health unions, charities and professional colleges in signing an open letter that urges the government to halt its plans to change student funding for nursing, midwifery and allied health professions.

The letter cites warnings from experts about the consequences of the move and urges Prime Minister David Cameron to fully consider their impact on patient care in England.

The signatories highlight a “worrying” lack of clarity, or consultation, about the effect that funding changes could have on those who need to train for more advanced or specialist roles, such as health visitors or district nurses.

There are more patients with multiple chronic conditions and more care needs moving to the community, they say, which means these roles are increasingly important for the health service and the uncertainty is of great concern.

The open letter to the prime minister reads:

As the leaders of professional organisations, health unions, patient organisations and Royal Colleges, we are calling on you to take immediate action to halt the government proposals to reform student funding for nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals (AHPs).

The government’s proposals on student funding for nursing, midwifery and AHPs are an untested gamble with the future of the workforce that have not been properly risk assessed.

There is little explanation or consultation about what impact these funding changes will have on the plans of those who need to train for more advanced or specialist roles, such as health visitors or district nurses, at a time when their expertise is needed by patients more than ever.

The plans to switch to a system of loans threatens to reduce the supply of future nurses, midwives and AHPs at a time when patient demand is rising.

While loans and tuition fees exist within other parts of higher education, it is important to recognise that those changes occurred after more than a decade of phased introduction. The impact will be worse in health because there are no transition arrangements.

There is no safety net for the NHS, these proposals will have a detrimental effect on the current and future NHS workforce, and also on the quality of patient care and safety provided in England.

We are deeply concerned that these plans could disproportionately affect more mature students, women, students with children and those who already have a degree, people who have always made up an important part of the NHS workforce.

Many of these people will be unwilling or unable to take on even more debt, and their vital contribution will be lost.

Under these plans, the government has failed to allocate any funding for extra clinical placements and mentors, vital in giving students real, practical experience. Healthcare students can spend up to 50% of their studies in clinical settings, so the quality of their education experience could be significantly affected.

These plans are a short-sighted attempt to solve a long-term and complicated problem. They have not been properly risk-assessed, and continuing with them as they stand would be nothing short of reckless.

We urge you to reconsider these plans and to meet with us to hear our concerns directly. We would also be keen to discuss the ways in which we can work together to create a health care workforce that is well motivated and sustainable for the years to come.

E Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary

Julie Bliss, chair, Association of District Nurse Educators

Peter Ward, chief executive officer, British Dental Association

Paddy Tabor MVO, chief executive, British Kidney Patient Association

Dr Mark Porter, council chair, British Medical Association

Dr Jill Firth, president, British Health Professionals in Rheumatology

Dr Rosemary Gillespie, chief executive, The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists/The College of Podiatry

Dr Theresa Shaw, chief executive, Foundation of Nursing Studies

Dr Cheryll Adams, executive director, Institute of Health Visiting

Megan Dunn, national pesident, 
National Union of Students

Arlene Wilkie, chief executive,
 Neurological Alliance

Katherine Murphy, chief executive, 
Patients Association

Steve Ford, chief executive, 
Parkinson’s UK

Dr Crystal Oldman, chief executive,
 The Queen’s Nursing Institute

Professor Maureen Baker, chair, 
Royal College of General Practitioners

Cathy Warwick CBE, chief executive, Royal College of Midwives

Professor Judith Ellis, chief executive,
 Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Janine Tregelles
, chief executive, Royal Mencap Society

Richard Evans, chief executive office, The Society and College of Radiographers

Dave Prentis, general secretary, UNISON

Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary,