Why should we defend NHS Student Bursaries? #BursaryNotBust

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.