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.