Changes to student nursing finance must not be 'nodded through' parliament without full debate and scrutiny
Labour MP for Ilford North, Wes Streeting, writes following his adjournment debate on finance for student nurses and midwives following changes announced in the Autumn Statement.
Last night I led an important debate on Finance for Student Nurses and Midwives - a subject close to my heart. I spent much of my career before politics working for a number of charities to widen access to higher education. As Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing in Redbridge, I became acutely aware of the challenges facing frontline staff in both of the NHS Trusts that serve my constituents in Ilford North.
With just a few lines in the Autumn Statement the Chancellor announced the biggest shake up in the funding of nursing, midwifery and allied health subjects since the Health Services and Public Health Act of 1968. The Chancellor is passing on the full cost of training to these essential frontline staff for the first time.
Nursing and midwifery students currently pay no tuition fees for their studies and receive a non-means tested grant of up to £1,000 and a means-tested bursary of up to £3,191 to help with the costs of living while they train.
This is significant because students on both courses are required to work throughout their degrees in clinical practice, where they are subject to the full 24 hour care cycle. They work evenings, nights and weekends, with nurses required to work at least 2,300 hours across their degree.
Their courses are longer, their holidays shorter and their placements are demanding. Those who do paid work outside of their course can end up working over 60 hours a week as a result.
There has been public outcry at the planned loss of the NHS bursary, but the Government’s plans go even further. Nursing and midwifery students will not only lose their bursaries for maintenance, they will also be expected to take out loans to pay for their tuition fees for the first time.
These changes will burden these students with huge debts of at least £51,600, which they will be expected to begin paying back as soon as they graduate because nurses currently earn a starting salary just over the repayment threshold – which is now shamefully frozen at £21,000.
As a result, nurses will take an average pay cut of £900 a year as debt repayments kick in.
Nurses and midwives are exceptional people and their dedication to others is remarkable. They work long hours, often in difficult situations, and take a direct role in caring for patients when they are at their most vulnerable.
They care for us in some of our darkest and most painful moments and the weight of their responsibility carries with it a heavy physical and emotional load. As the saying goes “save one life and you’re a hero, save a hundred lives and you’re a nurse”.
These people are seeking to qualify into these difficult professions and form the NHS of tomorrow. They deserve our respect, admiration and support and the right incentives to continue or even commence study in the first place. I sincerely hope that these changes are not nodded through and are subject to full parliamentary debate and scrutiny.
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