Study shows the public wants the government to pay for the training of student nurses, says UNISON

The government should continue to pay for the training of student nurses and midwives, and not force NHS trainees to fund their degrees with loans, according to a new survey published today (Friday) by UNISON.

More than three-quarters (77%) of voters who took part in the YouGov survey believe the government must carry on paying the tuition fees of student nurses and others studying to become NHS health professionals.  Seven in ten (72%) survey respondents who voted Conservative in last year’s general election are of the same opinion.

Seventy two per cent of survey respondents also want the government to continue funding the NHS bursary for nursing, midwifery and other health students. This gives financial help towards living costs. Sixty eight per cent of people who voted Conservative in the 2015 election want the government to continue supporting NHS students in this way.

UNISON commissioned the polling as part of its submission to the government’s consultation into plans to scrap the nursing bursary. The controversial proposals apply to anyone enrolling on a nursing degree from next September.  Students will also have to take out a loan to cover the cost of their tuition fees.

UNISON has calculated that students graduating in 2020 could be saddled with debts of around £51,600, yet will be starting out in the workplace on a salary of under £23,000.

Survey respondents were also asked if they thought student nurses should be paid for the time they spend working in hospitals on their practical placements alongside qualified staff. Seventy one per cent – and more than two-thirds (67%) of those who’d voted Conservative a year ago – thought they should.

A third (34%) of those who thought that student nurses should be paid for the part of their degree that is spent working in a hospital or clinic felt they should be paid the government’s national living wage (currently £7.20 an hour for anyone over the age of 25).

A quarter of survey respondents who felt student nurses should be paid believed they should receive the Living Wage Foundation’s living wage of £8.25 an hour (or £9.40 in London). Three in ten (31%) thought student nurses should be paid more than this living wage but less than their newly qualified nursing colleagues.

UNISON head of health Christina McAnea said: “There’s already a desperate shortage of nurses. Scrapping the bursary next year will simply add to the huge pressures on an already overwhelmed NHS. This poll clearly shows that the public thinks the government should meet the cost of student nurses’ training.

“Nursing trainees tend to be older, and may have debt from a first degree. They’re also more likely to have families, and to be anxious at the thought of going further into the red, taking on loans they will probably never pay off.

“Many students already have second jobs – and even more will have to work extra hours if the government persists with these unpopular plans. This risks both their studies and their health. Others – especially those whose parents cannot afford to subsidise them – will be priced out of a career in nursing.

“If there are fewer students coming out of university, hospitals will have to up their spending on agency staff and overseas recruitment, which may prove impossible in post-Brexit Britain.

“These plans are ill-conceived and will deter nursing recruits, not attract them. We’re calling on ministers to pause the plans and think again.”

Notes to editors:
– Student nurses don’t currently pay tuition fees, and receive a means tested bursary during their training. They must do at least 4,500 hours while studying, at least half of which are in practice. Unlike most students, nursing trainees work up to 37.5 hours a week in placement for around half the year, and spend the rest of the time in lectures, without a summer holiday or Easter break.

– Under the government’s national living wage, those aged over 25 currently earn £7.20 an hour. Younger workers receive the national minimum wage, which for 21-24 year olds is £6.70 an hour and £5.30 for 18-20 year olds.

– Last week UNISON was one of more than 20 health unions, charities and colleges that wrote to the Prime Minister calling for a rethink of the government’s plans to scrap the bursary and introduce student loans.

– All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,656 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13-14 June 2016. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

– The results of the YouGov survey are here

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