Wednesday 06-01-2016 - 16:12
When the government announced it was going to scrap the NHS bursary for student nurses and pile even more debt onto the backs of our future NHS workers, I sat up and had to wonder what on earth they think they are doing.
They say they want to get more people into the NHS? To be honest we are lucky those who make it in at the moment stay the course and get through it. But the government dismiss the views and experiences of people like me and ignore our warnings. I wanted to make sure that everyone gets to hear these stories. The real life accounts of people who actually know what it is like. This is my story about why the NHS bursary is not a luxury, but a lifeline.
By the time I had decided to go to university I was 21. So I suppose you could call me a bit of a ‘late bloomer’ to education. But I was hardly that old at the time. Students aren’t just the typical 18 year olds. But even I thought that I was going to be the oldest in my class. Bless. I wish I was still 21, but since then I’ve done a few things in education. Starting out in Plymouth on a nursing course, going on to do a degree in the health and social care sector, then went in to teaching. I’m now, what I guess we could call, preaching. But through all of this I know one thing for sure – I wouldn’t have been able to stay in education if it wasn’t for my NHS bursary.
As I was applying for my student loan, it turned out I was only to be offered a reduced loan because I was getting tuition funding. If I remember correctly (I’m older than 21 now and age is becoming a thing…), that meant I received only £747 a term. My bursary was also limited. My course mates and I had to find work outside of our studies and we work on top of our 3 month placements to fund our way through university. But every day when I was getting ready in the morning, most of my course mates were also getting their kids ready for nursery and school. Because most of the people I went through education with had children. They were student parents.
I didn’t have children and was fortunate enough to find work behind the bar in a local gay venue in Plymouth. I then worked in a mental health care home in Torquay. Some weeks I would be working over 60 hours a week in total between work and my studies whilst training to be a Nurse. The scary part of this story? This isn’t rare, many people on my course were doing the same. In fact, we almost found it funny that one person was having to come into lectures straight after a night shift.
This is the shocking reality of student life and gaining entry into our most prized public service. We have to ensure that nobody has this experience and that it doesn’t get worse. We cannot allow the government to let some of the most talented future health staff miss out, drop out or never apply at all. Their changes are misguided and it is right that we are campaigning to stop them from cutting these vital bursaries.
My friend Samantha is now a Nurse in Plymouth. She was completely and rightly outraged by proposed cuts to nursing bursaries. She said to me that if we didn't have a bursary she wouldn't have been able to train as a nurse. She’s a single mum. Studying and working together would have been pretty much impossible. She turned to me and said that she couldn’t afford to see the student debt repayments go out of her wage packet every month now. The money goes to her child. Her nurses starting salary barely gives her enough income to get by.
Then I spoke to my friend Eleanor. She told me about her experiences trying to work the full hours on a nursing ward whilst training. Just so she could stay financially stable. Whilst her bursary gave her a regular income it wasn’t enough to live on. This story is repeated up and down the country.
With study being subsidised already by a loan and part time work – the government’s own numbers don’t add up. It will simply leave students with no other option but to drop out. Working 37.5 hours a week on placement whilst having no bursary and no time to work, or care for your children, would not only put people off studying nursing but will put people who do carry on with their course on the brink of poverty.
Our health service is meant to make people better. We cannot allow its future to be built on the back of people it is making unhealthy. Students and our society deserve better and we have to change the governments’ mind.
The real story here is the hidden one of overworked and underfunded nursing students. The removal of NHS bursaries is a threat to their welfare and to the future of our health service.