Today’s columnist, Paul Blomfield, MP: Bursary cut will hit NHS

A protest against cuts to NHS student bursaries for nurses and midwives.
A protest against cuts to NHS student bursaries for nurses and midwives.
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The Government’s treatment of junior doctors has been in the news a lot recently – and rightly so.

There are deep concerns about the impact of their plans on doctors’ conditions and morale. But there’s another injustice to NHS staff that deserves the same attention.

The Government intend to make nurses, midwives and allied health professionals, like physiotherapists and radiographers, pay for their own training – with a 5 per cent pay cut.

Their plan is to scrap the bursaries that these students get, and charge them £9,000 for courses which currently have no fees.

The Government, which cut training places for nurses in 2010, argues that giving loans for students to buy courses will create a market in which more people will take up training. When I challenged Ministers on why an estimated £51,600 of debt would make courses more attractive, their answers were unconvincing.

The Government’s arguments certainly haven’t won over the many nurses and midwives who wrote to me – and I put their points to Ministers. Scrapping bursaries will deter people, especially those from families with lower incomes, as well as mature students and parents.

These are exactly the people who are more likely to apply for nursing, midwifery, and related courses. And their experience is so important to the NHS.

The average age of student nurses is 29 and more than 40 per cent have children or other dependents.

Midwives tend to be older, often bringing the valuable experience of having been a mum themselves.

The Government argue that they should face the same burden as other undergraduates in borrowing to pay for their courses.

But nursing and midwifery students are different. The long hours studying, and working on clinical placements, means they can’t take on the part-time jobs that other students need to make ends meet.

The Government want student nurses and midwives to take on huge loans. A basic grade nurse would be paying back around £900 a year, throughout most of their working lives, which is effectively a pay cut of almost 5 per cent.

Nursing and midwifery are vocations that benefit us all. We should continue to provide bursaries, because we all have a stake in their training and the incredible work they do.

It’s not right to transfer the cost of training from the NHS to nurses and midwives – and to risk a recruitment crisis that will damage the NHS.