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Student nurses struggling as financial hardship payments rise

The increase follows the government’s decision to scrap the NHS bursary in August 2017 and replace it with a system of loans.



money currency

Hardship payments to struggling student nurses have risen since scrapping the NHS bursary.

Financial hardship payments to student nurses in need rose by 6% to £3.47million in the 2017-18 academic year, new research by Nursing Standard reveals.

This increase follows the government’s decision to scrap the NHS bursary in August 2017 and replace it with a system of loans.


Despite the rise in hardship payments, the number of student nurses receiving this money in England dropped suggesting student nurses are being hit harder financial and correlating with the decline in the total number of undergraduates.

Earlier this month, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, has announced the country will be increasing the bursary for students entering undergraduate nursing and midwifery courses.

The Department of Health and Social Care says it has ‘no plans’ to reinstate nursing bursaries.

My ‘money was just eaten up by rent’.

Katie-May Taylor, who is studying nursing at Sheffield Hallam University, was forced to apply for a hardship grant at the start of the academic year to help cover rent and living costs. ‘The money was just eaten up by rent,’ she explains.

Ms. Taylor says without this assistance she would have had to drop out of the course or ask her parents to help.

She said; “The government should not have cut the bursary ­– they have done it without understanding the situation, and that students were already struggling even with the bursary. It’s putting a lot of people off nursing.”

A decline in the number of mature students.

Kevin Crimmons, Birmingham City University’s Head of Adult Nursing, says the removal of the bursary has heralded a significant decline in applications, particularly by mature students aged over 25.

He says mature students are more risk-averse, and student debt is putting them off applying, especially those who already have first degrees or have responsibilities such as children, mortgages or jobs.

‘The government did not run any kind of national campaign to make the students affected aware of the allowances and the support measures in place around student loans,” he says.

“Ministers are still wringing their hands about the huge number of nurse vacancies but doing little to support us in addressing that. The real message should be around the financial support available for students.”

Funding reform is needed.

Professor Dame Donna Kinnair, Royal College of Nursing Acting Chief Executive and General Secretary says ‘vital’ student funding reform is needed; “These alarming yet sadly predictable figures show the enormous personal cost of the government’s decision to scrap the bursary.

“Nursing students are not like other students. They face the additional costs of traveling to clinical placements, and they are often unable to supplement their income with part-time jobs due to the workload involved in a nursing course.

“But this disastrous policy doesn’t just have a huge personal impact on the students affected – student numbers are down 8% since the bursary was scrapped.

“The burden of debt is yet another factor that makes potential students think twice about studying for a nursing degree.”


One in six nursing associates drop out before qualifying, finds report

Despite this trainees showed “high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the programme”.



Group of nurses in meeting

Only 65% of trainee nursing associates said they planned to work as a nursing associate once qualified.

An independent evaluation of the nursing associate role commissioned by Health Education England (HEE) has found that while there are “high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the programme”, one in six nursing associates are dropping out before completing the course.

Attrition rates for trainee nursing associates fell slightly below that of student nurses, with 18% leaving before completing the course.


While ill health and personal issues were some of the most common reasons for leaving the programme, nearly a quarter (23%) withdrew because they failed to meet the academic requirements of the programme – with numeracy skills cited as a key issue.

One trainee said they found the “attitudes towards the role and the negative feedback about Nursing Associates” challenging.

Only 65% of trainees said they intend to continue working as a nursing associate once qualified as the programme is often seen as a stepping stone to becoming a registered nursing.

Highlighting challenges.

Mark Radford, Chief Nursing Officer, Health Education England said the report “highlights some challenges that we must address to ensure that students such as ensuring the quality and oversight of placements, attrition and numeracy support.”

“We also recognise that further work and research is required to ensure that the profession is supported and utilised in the workforce of health and social care as part of the MDT. I am pleased to be able to report that we are in the process of identifying candidates to be considered as NA ambassadors across England.

Commenting on the report, Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Executive and Registrar for the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), said; “Having had the pleasure of meeting many nursing associates across the country, I am continually inspired by their enthusiasm and dedication for providing care and they should be very proud of the difference they make for the people they support.”

“I look forward to seeing how nursing associates continue to develop and be supported in their work, long into the future.”

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UCAS accused of having an ‘outdated’ view on nurses

They describe the nursing role to prospective students as looking after people when they are sick or injured.



Student Nurse Lecture Theatre

UCAS describes nurses as providing “support to doctors and other medical staff”.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has been accused of having an “outdated” view on nurses after it described the profession as providing “support to doctors and other medical staff”.

UCAS describes the nursing role to prospective students as looking after people when they are sick or injured. Adding; “You’ll provide support to doctors and other medical staff, take blood and urine samples, and in some cases, you may carry out minor surgical procedures.”


Nurses, alongside a multitude of other healthcare professionals, have taken to social media calling for the description to be amended so it “adequately reflects nursing in the 21st century”. They also criticised the article for failing to highlight a large number of health promotion and research roles frequently undertaken by the profession.

BJ Walto, a senior member of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) commented that the description is “inaccurate, demeaning and totally misleading portrayal of nursing.”

Tom Wavlin, a Lecturer in Adult Nursing & Admissions Tutor at the University of Plymouth, suggested the description could instead read; “an autonomous practitioner of nursing who works closely with other healthcare professionals”.

In comparison, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) website reads; “Registered nurses play a vital role in providing, leading and coordinating care that is compassionate, evidence-based, and person-centred. They are accountable for their own actions and must be able to work autonomously, or as an equal partner with a range of other professionals, and in interdisciplinary teams.”

A spokesperson for UCAS said; “It’s clear that our current role profile for nurses doesn’t reflect the amazing work that nurses across the country do each day, and we welcome the feedback we’ve recently received.

“We want to make sure that students considering their future options have up-to date information about all different careers available to them.

“We’re currently updating all of our job profiles and are in touch with nursing experts to help us make sure that we better reflect the roles and responsibilities of nurses today.”

UPDATE (17/10/19 09:55): This article was updated to include a comment from UCAS.

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