The government has announced it will no longer provide bursaries for post-graduate student nurses.
Bursaries for undergraduate nurses were abolished last year but postgraduate students continued to receive a bursary for tuition and maintenance, worth up to £8,000 a year.
However, from August 2018 postgraduate nurses, midwives and “allied health professional students” will have to take out student loans to cover the cost of their study.
The change means that student nurses joining the profession after completing an alternative degree first could qualify with up to £80,000 of student loan debt.
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Nursing leaders have criticised the move after removal of the NHS undergraduate bursary saw a significant drop in application to nursing degrees.
Janet Davies, Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive and General Secretary, said:
“At a time when the shortage is so great, another short-sighted announcement cuts off a way of getting more nurses.
“It goes against everything the Secretary of State has said on the urgent need to boost numbers in training and fill the vacant registered nurse jobs in the NHS.
“With the help of bursaries, the fast-track programme allows graduates of other subjects to retrain as a nurse and join the NHS in just two years.
“The Government must expand this route, not restrict it. Graduates with existing student debt will not be falling over themselves to take out more.
“The Government seems hell-bent on reducing the supply of talent into nursing and this move calls into question its commitment to grow the nursing workforce.”
In December it was revealed that the NHS is short of nearly 100,000 staff, with this figure estimated to grow further due to an ongoing training shortfall.