Student nurses and midwives to protest over scrapping of bursaries


Student nurses and midwives are set to stage a protest over the Government's "crushing" decision to scrap bursaries.

Hundreds are expected to gather outside the Department of Health on Wednesday to march against Chancellor George Osborne's announcement that bursaries are to be replaced with loans.

The plan was unveiled in last week's Comprehensive Spending Review and is expected to free up around £800 million a year in Government spending.

The move has been heavily criticised by unions including the Royal College of Nursing (RCN)  and Unison.

Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN, said: "The Chancellor's move to axe our bursaries is a crushing blow.

"Students are not the same as other undergraduates. As nursing students, they spend 50% of their time in clinical practice caring for real patients and working tirelessly for the NHS.

"They have no time to earn extra money and, with longer terms and varying shifts, student nursing requires incredible levels of dedication.

"Bursaries aren't a luxury, they're a lifeline. Our students don't apply to study nursing, they apply to train to be a nurse."

She said the Government had chosen to attack low paid workers in the NHS.

She said: "Rather than recognising students' efforts, the Government has instead chosen to pile on further financial pressures to what is already a low paid profession.

"Bursaries are crucial and all this will do is deter prospective nurses from applying. Given the serious nursing shortage this will further damage what is already a very fragile NHS."

The protest will start at 2pm outside the Department of Health building on Whitehall in central London.

On a Facebook page dedicated to the event, organisers said student nurses, midwives, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, podiatrists and radiographers would all face graduation with thousands of pounds of debt.

Trainee nurses aim to hand in a letter over for Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt urging the Government to think again about replacing the bursaries with loans in 2017.

Unison said its calculations showed that a student graduating in 2020 could leave with debts of more than £50,000, but will start on a salary of less than £23,000.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "There's already a desperate shortage of nurses. Scrapping the NHS bursary the year after next will simply make an already bad situation much worse.

"Nursing trainees tend to be older than other students, and may already have debt to pay off from a first degree.

"They're also more likely to have families, and are likely to balk at the prospect of going even further into the red, and taking on yet more loans that could take 30 years or more to pay off.

"Many people will be forced to take second and third jobs, compromising their studies and health. Or they'll be priced out of a career in nursing completely, especially if their parents don't have the cash to subsidise them. The losers will be the NHS and patients."

Save Our NHS Bursaries protest organiser Danielle Tiplady said: "Axing the bursary means that many people from poorer backgrounds won't be able to afford to fulfil their dreams of training as nurses, physiotherapists, or midwives. That saddens me immensely.

"I am very fortunate to be studying nursing, but I wouldn't be here without the NHS bursary."