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Saving the NHS Bursary: the consultation and the national lobby

Friday 08-04-2016 - 14:50

Yesterday the government launched a consultation on the abolition of NHS bursaries in England for nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students.

You can read the consultation here and our top-line analysis here.

Despite the serious concerns raised over the last few months by thousands of healthcare students, students’ unions, trade unions, NUS and many others, the Government shows no sign it recognises the risks it is taking, nor that it cares about the impact on our healthcare students. In fact, the Government appears to be in total denial. Even though the proposals mean that the graduation debt of healthcare students would soar, astonishingly, the word ‘debt’ is not used once in either the consultation document or the accompanying equality analysis.

Worse still, the consultation confirms that the proposals will end the present maternity cover for healthcare students; that postgraduates who received the NHS bursary will now have to access the new Masters loan, so increasing their debts; and that, although those taking healthcare courses as a second degree will still be able to access funding, this will still mean burdening those students with yet more thousands of pounds of debt.

The Government is living in cloud-cuckoo land if it thinks these changes won’t impact on participation or retention. As NUS, students’ unions and others have pointed out countless times, healthcare students are more likely to be women, more likely to have children, more likely to be mature and more likely to be from poorer backgrounds. All of these make students more sensitive to debt. Yet for all the evidence, the accompanying equality analysis assumes everything will be fine simply because the living costs loan will be higher. It truly beggars belief.

No-one is arguing healthcare students have enough money to live on right now, but a solution that increases their total debt by over £40,000 is no solution at all. We have to fight for an immediate halt to these proposals and for the Government to sit down with healthcare students, students’ unions, trade unions and NUS, so that we can develop a solution together, one that doesn’t just load debt onto students. We’ve got strong support from opposition MPs from no less than eight opposition parties – as well as the odd Conservative backbencher. But we need to convince more Tory MPs that this proposal needs to be thrown out and that we need to start again.

So that’s why NUS, with our campaign partners including UNISON, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and the British Dental Association, have called a national lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 25 May. We want healthcare students, students’ unions and others to take their concerns directly to MPs – most especially Conservative MPs. We’ll be sending out more on this very soon, but I really hope as many healthcare students and SUs as possible can attend.

Following the really excellent roundtable I held last month with a number of SUs and healthcare students, we’ve also launched a campaign pack for SUs to help with your work on a local level – you can download that and loads of other resources here. We’ll also be responding to the consultation, and I’ll be emailing SUs about our plans to support you in doing so in the coming days.

Ultimately, these changes are being driven by George Osborne and his obsession with the deficit, not what is in the interests of students, the NHS or the wider public. Other aspects of the Chancellor’s idiotic economic schemes have fallen apart under scrutiny; together, we can add the abolition of NHS bursaries to the list.

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