NHS nurses do not deserve the additional worry of paying off their student debt
If this isn’t the time to give NHS workers what they are rightly owed, then when? Sarah Owen MP asks. | PA Images
I and 80 other MPs wrote to the Health Secretary, calling on him to cancel the student debt incurred by thousands of student nurses who are now at the frontline of this fight against covid-19.
The outpouring of appreciation from the public every Thursday evening during #clapforcarers shows the depth of gratitude the country has for the NHS and our key workers. This evening will be no different. It will be emotional and heartfelt. As we clap from our doorsteps and windows for the third week in a row, many frontline workers have told me how much that support means but too many of them have been routinely underpaid, undervalued and under-resourced.
If this isn’t the time to give NHS workers what they are rightly owed, then when?
A small but significant step towards proper recognition would be for student nurse debt to be cancelled – which is why I and 80 other MPs wrote to the Health Secretary, calling on him to cancel the student debt incurred by thousands of student nurses who have chosen to cut short their studies, fast tracking themselves to the frontline of this fight against Covid 19.
While the people clap for our carers, it is time for the Government to act for our carers.
Health Education England announced that in response to the crisis 10,190 nursing and midwifery students from 35 universities had signed up to a paid placement. This figure had nearly doubled on the figure released a week before. They have rearranged their lives and paused their studies to respond to the Health Secretary’s call for them to join the NHS frontline a few months before they originally expected to end their studies and qualify.
Shockingly, these new nurses now serving the NHS during the ongoing pandemic will still be liable for over £9,000 a year in tuition fees.
I don’t believe students should have ever been put in a position to incur such debts while training to care for people and save lives. And I sincerely hope that this crisis will bring about a permanent change in government policy regarding further education and the people who have been wrongly classed as ‘low-skilled.’
Without the cancellation of this debt, student nurses who have volunteered to be fast tracked will essentially be paying and getting into further debt to risk their lives, in order to save ours. That is simply unjustifiable. Matt Hancock rightly took the decision to write off a significant portion of debt for hospitals, he should do the same for those who are working in those hospitals as well.
What awaits these brave new nurses will be a challenge that few nurses would have experienced before.
Reports of scarce or inadequate personal protective equipment, hospitals operating beyond their normal capacity and colleagues dying, could be what these new nurses face on a daily basis. All this on top of the same shared worry we all have - how to keep our loved ones safe during this crisis. They do not deserve to have the additional worry of how they will pay off their student debt as well.
So while the people clap for our carers, it is time for the Government to act for our carers and cancelling the student debt of these new nurses would be a fitting place to start.
Sarah Owen is the Labour MP for Luton North.