Three of the leading nursing magazines in Britain have joined forces to condemn the plans of the government to scrap bursaries for nursing students.
Nursing in Practice, Nursing Times and Nursing Standard have collaborated in penning an open letter to Prime Minister Theresa May.
The three publications believe that the incumbent prime minister must reconsider the decision to force nursing students to take out loans in order to cover the cost of their study.
David Cameron’s government had previously floated the idea of removing the Health Education England bursary for pre-registration nursing students.
This was intended to ensure that the funding between nursing and medical students was equalised.
In urging May to address the issue, the letter notes that May had pledged in her very first speech as Prime Minister “to establish a fairer country that works for everyone and not just the ‘privileged few’”.
Of course, some may be sceptical about the legitimacy and sincerity of this particular claim.
Nursing students would be forced in many cases to accrue £50,000 of debt after leaving university, while being presented with an annual salary of £22,000 in the early years of nursing careers, should the scrapping of bursaries go ahead.
The letter comments that the scrapping of bursaries will be particularly disadvantageous to those from poorer backgrounds.
“Saddling graduate nurses with university debt will badly affect the number of students who wish to take up this vocation. Students with children will be disproportionately affected as will those from less privileged backgrounds.”
And concludes that the NHS “will no longer have a nursing profession that reflects the patients they serve.”
Angela Sharda, deputy editor of Nursing in Practice, outlined the reasons for writing the letter, suggesting that the decision will have a profound influence on the NHS, and not just the career plans of some nurses.
“In this letter, we have tried to explain why scrapping bursaries is a bad idea and what effect the decision will have on nurses. The nursing workforce is an important part of our NHS and it is a real shame that nursing bursaries have been cut – it will leave a negative impact on the industry. The decision to leave the EU has left uncertainty on the future of our NHS, but removing nurses’ bursaries will have a major impact on nurses financially.”
Sharda also pointed out that the three publications are usually in competition, thus underling the profundity of this action.
“Usually, we stand as three rival publications but in this instance we have decided to stand together and address the matter to the Prime Minister. We hope that we will get a chance to speak with Theresa May to revaluate the Government’s decision on cutting bursaries.”
Nursing remains a cornerstone of the NHS, and indeed always will be, and it is clear that the bursary plans of the government will have a massive impact on the publicly-funded healthcare system.
Student nurses and midwives could be forced to fund their own education under a scheme currently being considered by the government.
The new Treasury plans would see these critical NHS workers being forced to pay their tuition fees and living costs, if proposals currently being assessed by the government come to fruition.
This will be a particularly worrying precedent for many concerned about the state of the health service, considering the fact that there is already a shortage of nurses in the NHS.
Indeed, it is often argued that the health service is one of the biggest beneficiaries of migrant labour of any organisation in the United Kingdom.
This certainly applies to doctors, physicians and surgeons, but also to nursing staff as well.
Due to the relatively small numbers of qualified nurses among the UK population, hospitals have frequently resorted to paying up to £2,200 per shift for locum staff, with thousands more being recruited from abroad.
And many people applying to train as nurses in the UK are currently turned away, with three times as many applicants as funded places, figures indicate.
Nonetheless, the government is apparently pressing on with the assessment of plans to compel student nurses and midwives to pay tuition fees and living costs.
The Councils of Deans of Health and Universities UK have already submitted plans to the government’s spending review.
This critical document is due to be published next month, and seemingly seeks to axe the existing system of free education completely.
All bursaries will be scrapped completely, replaced by a loan system. Tuition fees would also be introduced, and these would have to be funded by student applicants.
Many people will be extremely critical of the government scheme, viewing it as merely another opportunity for the financial sector and private equity to gain a valuable source of revenue.
Considering the importance of nurses within the NHS, and the obvious gulf between the required number and existing qualified individuals, putting such a significant barrier in the way of qualification will surely exacerbate the problem.
Critics will suggest that this scheme rather grates with the rhetoric that has issued forth from the government in recent weeks and months about the importance of the NHS in general.
Already nursing and midwifery unions have spoken out about the proposed changes.
The complaints of the largest nursing unions in the country indeed seem rather plausible, and are focused on the suggestion that many potential entrants will be deterred, particularly those from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.
With nursing already attracting a relatively meagre starting salary, the prospect of large debts will doubtless be viewed as a millstone by many potential applicants.
Tom Sandford, director of nursing at the Royal College of Nursing raised concerns that such changes could put potential nurses off entering training completely.
“Financial hardship is the top reason nursing students drop out, and the full time demands of the course make it very difficult for nursing students to earn extra money while they are training,” Sandford said.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Midwives claimed that the plans risked worsening a shortage of 2,600 midwives.