Since the government removed nursing bursaries in 2017, disaster has struck the NHS. During some work experience at my local council, I attended a meeting where the problems of Bassetlaw hospital were discussed. Since January 2017, the hospital has had to close overnight admissions into the children’s ward from 7pm due to gaps in nursing rotas and staff shortages. As a result, by May 2018, 11 children on average were being transferred from Bassetlaw to Doncaster hospital each week. This is the reality of the nursing bursary being removed.
Our NHS is starved of people with the necessary qualifications to look after patients across the country, with applications to nursing degrees falling by 13% since 2017. In spite of this, 42,000 new nurses are desperately needed. With the Royal College of Nursing pleading with ministers to look again at the policy ‘before patients suffer the consequences’ and 92% of people disagreeing with the scrap of the bursary, it is clear the decision made in 2017 has had dire consequences.
The NHS faces a seriously large amount of vacancies which will no doubt increase as numbers of applications continue to fall. The situation has become so desperate that there is now a growing petition circulating about discussing the reinstating of the bursary for the House of Commons to discuss and has so far received almost 60,000 signatures. The government responded to this petition in October 2018 stating ‘there are no plans to reintroduce bursaries’ which they believe ‘resulted in many students being turned away from a nursing career’. Unfortunately, the very taking away of these bursaries is what has turned students away from pursuing nursing.
Attending university for anyone is a big decision to make. Degrees are extremely stressful, no matter what the subject is. There are social, education and most importantly financial changes. For some people, the financial aspect of university is no big deal, that’s what you get student loans for right? But for many people, the expense of university is a looming and scary picture.
The nursing bursary was an excellent way to encourage students to pursue this degree, no matter what your background. It gave a helping hand to aspiring nurses who knew they could have the possibility of help financially along their demanding degree. A degree which leads to a physically and mentally draining job, even with the rewards. University remains the way the majority of people become qualified nurses and it is clear this once promise of a financial boost encouraged students to become nurses.
Labour MP Karen Lee is a nurse herself and recently told me that if she had not received her nursing bursary, she could not have afforded to do her training. She argues the drop in applications of training nurses by a third in two years is evidence that the bursary plays a lot into people’s decisions to study nursing. This bursary has now been snatched away and the NHS is suffering the consequences.
Confusion even remains for those students who started with the bursary and are now left in the dark about their entitlements. Emma told me ‘I’m a student nurse on a year out due to ill health, as this is my second year out, I fall into the position of starting out on a bursary and still do not really know how my finances will work out for the last six months of my course...very confused about how it will pan out’.
Would you apply to be a nurse, dedicating your physical and mental health daily in a high pressured environment, if the government seemed reluctant to help you? How can we expect the young people, who have this commitment and passion to help people, to go through this with no payback? For a job the government is supposedly thankful for, it has a funny way of showing it. Filling the vacancy of nurses is now a high priority for the NHS and with decreasing applications due to this refusal of financial help, patients like those at Bassetlaw, are suffering and it will only increase with the lack of action.
So how do we fix this disastrous falling in numbers of applications and hospitals having to shut their children’s wards as a result? Simply said, by reinstating the nursing bursary. The ten-year NHS plan missed an important part of what is desperately needed to strengthen the NHS, nurses. The bursary was a huge part of encouraging young, ambitious, compassionate and committed people to apply as nurses, no matter their background. This has, quite frankly, been taken for granted by our government.
The bursary once allowed people to put financial worries about the degree on the back-burner and allowed students to focus on getting the best possible result of their degree. The taking away of this bursary has now allowed financial worry to come to the forefront of these students minds again, caused frustration in students half way through the course and as we have seen, put people off applying to the degree full stop.
University is expensive and if we want our NHS to be strong and help the people it needs to, the government needs to get back to supporting the people who want to be nurses. Realistically, passion and a determination to help people is not all it takes to be a nurse. It is a demanding degree which leads to a demanding career. The removal of the bursary and total decline of 16,580 applications since March 2016 means reinstatement is the only real solution.