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Why should we defend NHS Student Bursaries? #BursaryNotBust



why should we defend nhs student bursaries

George Osborne apparently owns a stake in his father’s fabric shop. You can read it on Wikipedia. It’s quite romantic to think of young Gideon, playing amongst the exquisite textiles, maybe trimming a little off one part, his safety scissors in hand, severing the threads of an intricate ensemble. The little I know about textiles suggest that things can go awfully awry when you hack too much away from the material, not leaving you enough to fashion with. Public services are a little bit like that as well.


Recently the government announced that it was planning to cut NHS student bursaries. This is just one such slashing amongst the myriad; firefighter numbers down by 7000; the police losing £200 million; cuts to legal aid. This is not mentioning the fight about junior doctor contracts. One has to wonder exactly the kind of society George, and his friends, would like to see at the end of this decade. Safety nets that helped to catch the most vulnerable in society are being stripped bare. If you’re rich you should make it through though. For those of us who work in the NHS, you sit close to the maelstrom of these colliding events. A muddled, older person leaves the gas on at home – she is blown up, goes to hospital and is treated, needs subsequent social care, whilst the family are involved in a wrangle over property with no free advice – at different points the support system fails. But each of us cannot see how the tapestry has fallen to pieces, each seam peeling away. We only work within our own fields of vision, and with our own experiences.

To turn more specifically to the case of NHS bursaries – I am highly suspect when the government claims to be doing anything to support nurses, or their clinical colleagues. Why would you make it so much more difficult for non-EU nurses to stay (making them leave after 6 years if they do not earn enough), whilst also cutting nurses’ free education? Many of our present working nurses are nearing retirement: we may be short by some 47,500 in 2016. This is not a government that supports the NHS, but undermines it. The Letwin and Redwood book of austerity reigns supreme. It likes to claim spending is maintained. It likes to conflate a stimulus with a reduction in deficit. It is happy to try to keep the body looking somewhat presentable, whilst slightly damaging each of the organs.

The free bursary was mine, during my fairly recent student days, and like all nursing students I worked for it – in placements and with essays. I feel for those younger, and also those more mature, people who wish to train to be nurses in the future. I am not looking forward to mentoring them, despite wanting to take my mentorship course. I enjoy teaching. It is a vital part of a nurse’s job. But attrition is already suspected to be around 50%. What a terrible waste of both of our efforts should they choose to drop out, unable to pay the bills. To put aside the discredited economic arguments for what the government are doing, it does not take an archbishop, or a moral philosopher to see their actions are morally reprehensible. When the UN show up on your doorstep to investigate your party’s treatment of disabled people, you need to take a look at yourself in the antique, heirloom mirror.

On January 9th 2016 I will be marching alongside fellow student nurses and other allied health professionals.

If you want to join us meet at St. Thomas’ hospital, London at 12.00pm

The plan is to help raise the public’s awareness of the Tories’ base treatment of trainee clinicians. I hope many doctors will also be there. I hope the whole thing will not fall on totally deaf ears. I hope primarily it will bring public sector workers together, and let them see how they are being stitched up. Whatever damage the present lot do, it is still reassuring to think they have five years only to do it in. The NHS, for all its present faults and failures, has lasted nearly 70 years. I have doubts that will be the same beast in 70 more. But there’s fight in it yet.

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Nurses don’t need bursaries – here are four reasons why



Until 2017, students studying nursing in England received a bursary and paid no fees. The bursary was paid by the NHS and was a remnant of the days when nursing students were employed by the hospitals where they trained. By the end of the 1990s, all nursing education moved to universities, but the bursaries remained.


The UK government’s decision to stop bursaries in England was met with protests, especially by the Royal College of Nursing. Proponents of the bursaries argued that it would exacerbate current nursing shortages. We need to attract more candidates, not drive them away, they argued, especially older women from lower socio-economic groups.

Only the bursary system did not solve nursing shortages and it was not flexible enough to respond to changing demands. When we needed more nursing students, the NHS did not necessarily have the funding to provide bursaries. Contracts between universities and the NHS had a cap on the numbers of nursing students funded.

I propose four reasons why bursaries for nursing students aren’t needed.

1. We can’t afford it and they don’t need them

The NHS can no longer afford the scheme, especially with the proposed expansions in the numbers of nursing students. Nursing students, along with other university students, have access to student loans that cover their tuition fees and provide them with a living allowance.

Nurses, almost uniquely, are virtually guaranteed a job on graduation and if they earn £24,000 annually – the middle of the lowest pay band for a staff nurse – they only need to repay £11 a week.


2. Nursing students are not employees

It is often thought that nursing students are working as employees of the NHS while they are in hospital. They are not. They are “supernumerary”, which means they are not included in the workforce. This recognises that they are students and that they are there to learn. They may have less opportunity than other students to work and earn money to support themselves, but this is surely offset by almost guaranteed employment on graduation?

3. Nursing is not a vehicle for social engineering

Some worry that older women from lower socio-economic groups, those who have had families or are seeking a late or second career, will find it hard to study nursing. But are these concerns justified? The initial introduction of student loans did not reduce the numbers of applicants from lower socio-economic groups to university. Why should it affect nursing?

We need a nursing workforce that is diverse in gender, ethnicity and age. But someone entering nursing late may only work for a short time in the NHS. This is not good value for money if that money is being spent by the NHS.

Nursing and the NHS do not exist as vehicles for social engineering where everyone who ever wanted to be a nurse can become a nurse. Both nursing and the NHS exist to provide a service: patient care.

4. We’ll get the most motivated students

While bursaries were available, both nursing students and nursing lecturers reported that some students were only studying nursing for the bursary. They had no intention of entering nursing on graduation and, in fact, many nursing students never enter nursing.

With an end to bursaries and an end to the cap on numbers, we have a much more flexible system that can respond to the need for nurses. The issue remains the availability of places for nursing students in the NHS. But universities can now negotiate with any part of the NHS they wish – not just their local hospitals – and can pay the NHS for training places. This should provide the flexibility needed and an incentive to the NHS to provide, and even compete to provide, the best training places.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. The Conversation

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Students need to be involved in the vote on NHS pay



Students should be included in the vote on the proposed NHS pay deal – because it directly affects their future.

In March the Government, alongside healthcare unions, announced ‘modernisation’ of the Agenda for Change pay structure and revealed a radical overhaul of both the structure and terms and conditions of the pay system.


However, many have highlighted issues with the proposed pay deal.

The official recommendation from all unions, except the GMB, is that the deal should be accepted and unions are set to ballot their members later this month. But, only current NHS employees who are under an Agenda for Change contract will be included in the vote – this excludes the majority of healthcare students.

Student nurses alongside student radiographers, physiotherapists student and other allied healthcare professionals are the healthcare professionals of tomorrow and the proposed NHS pay deal will have a direct impact on their future.

As qualified professionals it is important we have our students on our side, students are united, numerous, have immense voting power and the ability to change the outcome of any vote.

Image: © Monkey Business


The Royal College of Nursing has admitted it is ‘frustrating’ for those wanting to vote on their future, as currently, the only way for students to get involved is to ensure eligible members exercise their right to vote.

Katharine Youngs, Student RCN Trade Union Committee Member, said; “I know that not being able to vote in the consultation is very frustrating – especially if you know that you want to work in the NHS when you qualify.
“But the deal proposes changes to current NHS contracts of employment, and not future contracts, so we cannot vote on something that doesn’t apply to us right now, in the same way that RCN members in the independent sector won’t be able to vote.
“As student members, we can still get involved in the consultation by spreading the word about the deal in our universities, and help both fellow students and NHS staff in our placements to understand the benefits we will experience in the future.
“You can encourage those RCN members working in your NHS placements to take part in the online consultation when it opens on 23 April. You can also attend the pay events around the country to hear more about the deal and ask any questions as well as visiting the RCN website for full details of the deal.

But, Richard Betley, a Student Nurse and RCN Member, disagreed with the official stance and feels that students need to be actively involved; “As paying members of the RCN, students should be included in any votes which directly affect their future. The pay deal is structured over a 3 year period so any student currently studying nursing will qualify during this period.

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Student nurses to receive ‘political lobbying lessons’

The session is designed to equip students with practical skills and knowledge they can use to develop a good relationship with their local MP.



Nursing students will learn how they can work with MPs to promote the nursing profession in a new training session organised by the RCN.

Members of the RCN’s student committee and student information officers – the RCN’s representatives in universities – will learn their way around the UK parliament and the government from the UK Parliament Outreach and Engagement Service.


The session is designed to equip students with practical skills and knowledge they can use to develop a good relationship with their local MP.

The RCN’s public affairs team will talk through the college’s approach to engaging with parliamentarians, especially the crucial role members can play. The team will explain different tactics and approaches students can take as well as what they can ask MPs to do to show their support for nursing staff in their constituencies.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “To work effectively, any union must be able to engage MPs and ministers.

“We know our members make the most powerful advocates for the profession. When frontline nursing staff sit in front of parliamentarians, you can see they listen.

“It’s through the hard work of members that vital issues such as safe staffing, harassment and health policy reach the top of the agenda.

“When nursing faces challenges on every front, the RCN wants to make sure our advocates are fully-equipped.”

Charlotte Hall, chair of the students’ committee, said: “Student nurses represent the future of the profession. Learning to engage with MPs is vital if we are to effectively shape that future and ensure the best possible care for patients.

“With these skills, committee members and student reps will be able to help other nurses make their voices heard on behalf of the profession and patients.”

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