In July 2016 the Government confirmed that NHS bursaries for training nurses, midwives, and Allied Health Professionals will be abolished and replaced with student loans from August this year. I understand how strongly NHS staff and many people in Worsley and Eccles South and across the country, feel about this issue. The ‘Keep the NHS Bursary’ petition was signed by more than 162,000 people. I share these strong feelings about this policy change
Nurses, midwives, and allied health professionals work long hours, often in difficult circumstances. They work hard to make our health service one to be proud of, and deserve our respect and support. It is therefore disappointing that rather than investing in healthcare students and protecting their bursaries – which help with living costs and tuition fees – student nurses are now being asked to pay to train to work in the NHS.
I am worried that Conservative-led Government cuts to nurse training places during the last Parliament have left hospital wards understaffed. I also believe that placing the burden of the cost of education on nurses is wrong and that these plans risk discouraging nurses from working in frontline nursing roles.
A UNISON survey of student nurses found that almost 91% would not have applied for their degree without access to the bursary and in February the House of Commons Library revealed that the admissions organisation UCAS received 10,000 fewer applications for nurse training compared to last year.
Last year I supported a Labour motion in the House of Commons which called for the Conservative Government to drop the proposals and instead to consult on how it could best fund and support the future healthcare workforce. Unfortunately the motion was defeated. I and my Labour colleagues have continued to pressure the Conservative Government on this issue.
In January, there was a debate in Westminster on the ‘Agent for Change: NHS Pay Restraint’ petition. During the debate my shadow health team colleague, Justin Madders MP, said that Labour believed “the disastrous policy of having tuition fees for student nurses will almost certainly make the position (of the NHS) worse, not better. The Royal College of Nursing warned at the time that the policy could act as a disincentive for students from some backgrounds—particularly mature students and those on lower incomes—and early indications are that applications to study are down by at least 20%. If that turns out to be an accurate reflection of the position, the pressure on existing staff can only increase.”
Labour’s opposition to the cut was repeated again during the March debate on NHS pay. In that debate, the Shadow Health Minister criticized the Conservative Government for “driving an NHS workforce crisis, forcing people out of health professions and putting others off starting in the first place”.
I and my colleagues in the Shadow Health team will continue to stand up for local NHS staff in Parliament and we will continue to press for these changes to be reversed.