Not a normal day for NHS workers

On a normal Wednesday morning Emily Heron would be taking patients’ blood pressure or doing observations.

Or if she weren’t on a shift, she would be looking after her terminally ill dad, taking him to dialysis or hospital appointments.

But on Wednesday 25 May she did something very different.

Everyone knows about the appalling way the junior doctors have been treated by this government, but doctors aren’t the only ones. Emily is a health care assistant, and she’s one of a large group of people who want to become nurses, or are already working in nursing, who have a bone to pick with Jeremy Hunt.

They’re angry and worried because the government plans to scrap the NHS bursary in England – health and university education are devolved matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The bursary is a small amount of money for people training to be nurses, midwives, physios or other allied health professionals who require a university degree.

It was originally set up as an acknowledgement that they have to work for the NHS for half the time they’re studying. Removing it will mean health workers who graduate in 2020 will be burdened with £51,600 debt.

That’s why, on the morning of Wednesday 25 May, NHS staff from across England booked the day off work and travelled to London.

Their first stop was Central Hall in Westminster where they gathered to discuss their plans for the day. Most of them were young and nervous, and had not done anything like this before – going to Parliament to try and persuade their MPs that the future of the NHS depends on the NHS bursary.


Health workers call the NHS bursary a "lifeline"

Health workers call the NHS bursary a “lifeline”

Emily used to study engineering, but when her dad became ill she dropped out to look after him.

Looking after her dad made her realise she’s got a talent for caring, which is why she got a job as a health care assistant in Newcastle hospitals.

Nursing is Emily’s dream, but if the bursary is scrapped she has no one who can help her financially and she says she simply can’t afford to train.

a student nurse

Alex Robinson, student nurse

Alex Robinson would usually be facilitating medication rounds or doing aseptic dressing changes on a Wednesday.

She’s currently studying to be a nurse; she’s quiet and a little nervous about talking to an MP, but she’s passionate about saving the bursary because it enabled her to train.

For Alex, there are two important reasons she couldn’t have trained without the bursary. They’re called Billie and Maisie.

“I’ve got two young children and it just wouldn’t have been possible,” she said. “I’ve already got a small amount of student debt from this degree but the thought of being saddled with over £50,000 worth of debt would have made it impossible.

“There’s no way I could have coped without the bursary.”

Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament


Many people who train to be nurses are parents, and they have told UNISON that without the bursary they would not have been able to afford to train.

After meeting in Central Hall the health workers queued for the Houses of Parliament and made their way to a room to wait for MPs.

Anatang Bassey, health care assistant

Anatang Bassey (left), health care assistant, with her MP Helen Hayes

Anatang Bassey would usually be in a London hospital on a Wednesday: often on a long shift – out the door at 6.30am and not back in until midnight.

She’s a health care assistant and she wants to train to be a nurse, but she already has debt from her first degree in health promotion and education and can’t afford to get into more debt.

Anatang says that many health care assistants want to go on to train as nurses, but thinks they’re all going to be put off by the £50,000 debt.

She’s extremely worried about her future because of the bursary. But she’s also excited about being in Parliament as she’s never been before. “

To see this place it’s really wonderful, I’m blessed.”

Linda Hobson, nurse

Linda Hobson, nurse

Linda Hobson is a registered nurse who struggled to make ends meet when she trained, and that was with the benefit of having the bursary. She is adamant she wouldn’t have gone into nursing without it.

Linda points out that student nurses can be working full time on the wards; a full 37 ½ hours like anyone else on a full-time contract, but now “we’re basically saying to them they have to work for the NHS and pay for it.”

Linda and her nursing colleagues are worried because they rely on health students for support, and if the students are exhausted at work because they’ve got to have a second job to pay the bills, they won’t be in a good position to learn. And even worse, they could be so tired they’re a danger to patients.

Craig Smart, health care assistant

Craig Smart, health care assistant

Craig Smart works in theatre surgeries. Usually on a Wednesday he would be setting up a theatre, making sure all the equipment is ready to use.

He’s been a health care assistant for almost 15 years, but becoming a nurse is what he’s always wanted to do. Nursing is in his family.

Craig hasn’t been able to train yet because outside of work he’s a carer for his dad. He’s extremely worried about the future of the NHS.

“If you’re having to pay tuition fees of £9,000 per year, the way the nursing course is set up is 50% theory and 50% practice, which is on the wards, where you work days, you work nights, you work weekends, bank holidays,” he sauys.

“Essentially I’m going to be paying £9,000 a year to work.”

After some waiting around, several of the group met with their MPs, though some MPs didn’t attend.

All the NHS staff are going to continue campaigning to save the bursary, because they believe that without it our NHS will be severely damaged and they hope others will get involved too.

As Craig said, “when it comes to defending the NHS I think we need to get as many people involved as possible.”