I spoke in Parliament calling on the Government to increase funding to higher education courses for nursing, midwifery and allied health students, following a lobby by the Royal College of Nursing on their ‘Fund our Future’ campaign.
The Government ignored repeated warnings made in 2016 that scrapping bursaries in favour of loans and fees would deter prospective nursing, midwifery and allied health students. The then Health Minister, Ben Gummer, told us that the Government plans would lead to an increase in applications. Now we know he was wrong. There are currently 42,000 nursing vacancies in England and applications for nursing courses in the current academic year were a third lower than in 2016, following the replacement of nursing bursaries with loans and tuition fees, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).
These students work extremely hard and are on their courses to learn. Yet, because of shortages, they are being used to fill workforce gaps and to care for patients before they are fully qualified. This isn’t fair to nurses and it isn’t safe for patients.
I highlighted the case of a nursing student at Sheffield Hallam University who gave up a well-paid job to train as a mental health nurse. Her training currently involves 37 hours a week on placement, paying £10 a week on hospital parking after a round-trip of almost three hours a day. She takes no holidays so that she can top up her family income with temporary nursing jobs, but still struggles to get by with her children on free school meals.
The Government must look again at how it funds higher education for students on nursing, midwifery and allied health courses, by providing the funding to change the system and ensure that we recruit enough students and give them the support they need in this demanding course.