NHS bursaries currently on offer to nursing students are to replaced by student loans under policy changes announced by the Chancellor George Osborne in yesterday’s spending review.
Replacing the bursaries with tuition fee loans is expected to free around £800 million a year in government spending. The bursaries are currently funded by the Department of Health, which spends £826 million each year to fund the degree places of £60,000 students.
Mr Osborne told parliament:
Today there is a cap on student nurses; over half of all applicants are turned away, and it leaves hospitals relying on agencies and overseas staff.
So we’ll replace direct funding with loans for new students – so we can abolish this self-defeating cap and create up to 10,000 new training places in this Parliament.
Nursing unions have expressed concern about the changes, warning that they could deter prospective nurses from entering the profession. Janet Davies, General Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing, told The Guardian:
Anything that makes people worse off and puts people off from becoming nurses and reduces links between student nurses and the NHS, would be a big loss to our society and puts us in a precarious position.
There have also been concerns about the welfare and working conditions of nursing students. Earlier this year UNISON urged the government to pay healthcare students to reduce the financial burden placed on them by long training hours, which means most are unable to take up part time jobs. 98% of junior doctors also recently voted in favour of industrial action in a row with the government over their contracts.
The government has pledged an £8 billion increase in funding for the NHS by 2020, however the Chief Executive of NHS England Simon Stevens recently described Mr Osborne’s funding plans as ‘unworkable’ and warned the government it is at risk of violating its own Manifesto promises.