One of the worst elements of the Governemnt’s Comprehensive Spending Review was the proposals to cut bursaries for student nurses. This is particularly reprehensible given that nursing students spend so much of their time actually working on wards. In fact, there are many wards that would buckle under the pressure if they weren’t there.
Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams, who has led the way in proposing a bill that would guarantee safe nurse staffing levels in Wales, has blasted the proposals and written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt to express her concerns. She said:
The UK already has a shortage of nurses; it’s outrageous that the Tories are now scrapping the valuable support available to student nurses. This will likely only exacerbate the problem by putting people off training to be a nurse.
This ill thought-out decision will badly impact student numbers in England, which would then no doubt have consequences for Wales’ ability to recruit too.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats’ ‘More Nurses’ bill will deliver a safe number of nurses on hospital wards. However, this announcement will have implications on Wales’ ability to plan and recruit our workforce to ensure safe staffing levels are met.
Student nurses spend 50% of their time in clinical practice working directly with patients. Not only does the move to a loan system mean that nurses would effectively be paying to work, but the varied shift work required makes it near-on impossible to get a job to supplement a student loan.
Nursing is also a profession into which many people enter later in life, when they may have a family and mortgage to support. Following this cut, there would be far less incentive for those wishing to train as a nurse to leave a paid role and take on substantial debt in order to fund their living costs.
The Tory UK Government has already performed a u-turn with regards to recruiting nurses from overseas after sustained pressure. This is another ludicrous decision that they must reverse, otherwise it is patients that will pay the cost through poorer hospital care.
The full text of Kirsty’s letter follows:
I was deeply worried to hear of the proposed cuts to nursing student bursaries in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review. Whilst the full implications for Wales are still unclear, there will be an inevitable impact on student numbers in England, with worrying consequences for the future workforce of the NHS across the UK.
I currently have a Private Members’ Bill before the National Assembly for Wales, due to be considered in the final stages of the legislative process in the New Year. My Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Bill seeks to ensure we have safe nurse staffing levels in our Welsh hospitals. The announcement on student bursaries is therefore very concerning, as it will have implications on our ability to plan and recruit our workforce in Wales to ensure that safe staffing levels are met.
The announcement of the replacement of bursaries with loans fails to recognise the very different nature of training in this profession. Student nurses spend 50% of their time in direct clinical practice, working over 2,300 hours in the clinical environment and a further 2,300 hours undertaking theoretical education. During the last three months of training, students are rostered for a 37.5 working week under clinical supervision. Not only does the move to a loan system mean that nurses would effectively be paying to work, but the intense workload and varied shift work required makes it near-on impossible to get a job to supplement a student loan, making bursaries vital to ensure courses are accessible.
Furthermore, nursing is a profession into which many people enter later in life, when they may have a family and mortgage to support. There would be far less incentive for those wishing to train as a nurse to leave a paid role and take on substantial debt in order to fund their living costs while completing this training.
I urge you to reconsider your decision on this matter, which could have serious implications for the nursing workforce across the UK. In the meantime I would be grateful if you could clarify the implications of this announcement for Wales to end the uncertainty for many students.