Student nurses and midwives from all over the country marched in London on Saturday to protest against the government’s plans to scrap the NHS student bursary as of August 2017.
Currently student nurses and midwives receive an annual means-tested bursary of between £1000 and £4000 from the NHS, as they spend a considerable amount of time in hospitals doing clinical work.
Restrictions to the NHS budget mean that only a limited number of spaces for new students are available every year, and the government believe replacing the bursary with a loan will allow thousands more nurses to be trained, and will save millions of pounds.
Unison have said that the new loan system would leave nurses and midwives with more than £50,000 in debt that they would be paying off for the rest of their careers.
A Department of Health spokesperson stated: “We need more home-grown nurses in the NHS because they do an amazing job caring for patients, but currently two-thirds of people who apply to become a nurse aren’t accepted for training.”
However, many feel that scrapping the bursary and introducing loans will deter potential students from pursuing nursing and midwifery as careers.
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), stated “Removing their bursaries will have a serious impact on them financially and put the future supply of nurses at serious risk.”
“The decision also risks severing the critical link between the NHS and nursing students and in doing so the government is effectively absolving itself of any responsibility to ensure that the right numbers of nurses are in the right place and with the right skills.”
Outside Downing Street during the protest, Ms Davies said “RCN students have today shown just how worried they are about this move and its potential effects. Student nurses and midwives are the profession’s future and their voices and concerns must, and should, be listened to.”
The “Bursary or Bust” campaign also proposed that all NHS students join junior doctors on their walk-out planned for 12th January.
More than 150,000 people have signed an online petition to keep the bursary, and the issue will be debated in Parliament on Monday.