EMMA LEWELL-BUCK: New bursary will hit NHS recruitment

Currently nurses do not have to pay training fees
Currently nurses do not have to pay training fees

At a time when our NHS is in meltdown the Government should be doing everything they can to attract more people into careers in the health service. Not content with taking on junior doctors and the potential workforce gap this will leave the government are now introducing changes to nursing bursaries that will, at a time of nursing shortages, preclude many from entering into the profession.

In the last Spending Review, the Government announced that all new nursing, midwifery and allied health professional (AHP) students would no longer have their fees paid for by Health Education England (HEE) and instead they would be eligible for a bursary to support their living costs whilst studying.

The policy aim is to cut the amount of money invested in NHS staff training and will mean that around 2,000 fewer people will study for a career in the NHS every year. In total, the Government will save approximately £52 million by cutting the bursary out of a total NHS annual budget of £116.5 billion. That’s £1 million per week that should be used to support students and help to secure the future of the NHS but instead we have been given no guarantees where that money will go other than it will not be re-invested into the health service.

Unison, has calculated that students graduating in 2020 could well be saddled with debts of perhaps as much as £50,000, but their initial starting pay will be less than £23,000. Obviously the prospect of taking on so much debt may well stop people applying to study and the situation could be made worse as most health care profession courses have an intake that is predominately female, who are over 25 and often have children. The new proposals will make it even more difficult for these prospective students as the new loan-based support system is less generous for childcare and for those with dependents.

As well as the problems the NHS will find with recruitment, it will also face a crisis with the retention of highly trained staff. Our withdrawal from the European Union can only make the situation worse, some 20,000 European trained nurses have registered to work in the UK over the past 4 years. As expected the Brexitiers and Government have no idea what is going to happen to EU nationals residing and working in the UK placing a big question mark over the UK’s nursing staff.

It is also highly likely at a time when other English speaking countries have a shortfall in nurses, that existing nurses and midwives, who have been trained in England, may well find that working in Canada, New Zealand or Australia a more attractive option. This will inevitably lead to hospitals having to increase their spending on agency staff and overseas recruitment which may prove to be impossible in post-Brexit Britain.

This Government have created and perpetuated over total crisis in our NHS, staff retention and morale are at an all-time low and these changes will do nothing at all to improve matters.