TORY plans to scrap bursaries for nursing, midwifery and other health degree students will cripple the NHS, leaving it dangerously understaffed, union research reveals today.
According to a new report commissioned by trade unions Unison and the National Union of Students (NUS), the £800 million cut would see around 2,000 fewer people going into healthcare degrees each year.
Plans to change the £1,000 to £4,000 yearly bursaries into loans were originally announced in the Chancellor’s Spending Review last November.
Experts claimed the cuts would in fact result in further reliance on agency and overseas workers — recruiting at the cost of £100.3 million per student intake.
Unison head of health Christina McAnea said: “The government claims there are huge savings to be made from scrapping the bursary, but this analysis suggests the reverse is true.
“The prospect of graduating with huge debts is understandably going to put many people off a career in the NHS, especially when they realise they may never earn enough during their working lives to pay off the loan entirely.
“The NHS already has too few nurses, scrapping the bursary will make an already difficult situation much worse. “With too few staff on the wards, the impact on patient safety could well be disastrous.”
The changes, which are expected to be introduced in September 2017, would see student nurses graduate with debts of nearly £49,000.
Currently, healthcare students finish a three-year degree with £7,000 of debt.
The 71 per cent rise in costs is predicted to affect student intake with a 6 to 7 per cent loss each year from 2020.
Ms McAnea added: “It’s not too late for ministers to admit they were wrong, and start looking at other ways of encouraging people to consider careers in health.
“The government needs to rethink these ill-conceived plans.”
Universities too were expected to be worse off with the government’s plan, to the tune of £57 million to £77m per student.
Researchers feared the loss of income could lead to some universities dropping health courses altogether.
Bursary or Bust campaign founder and nursing student Danielle Tiplady told the Star the study merely confirmed what health students had already suspected for a long time.
“The government needs to start listening to the evidence rather than steamrolling ahead with plans that are going to destroy our NHS to its core,” she said.
“The government is weak and has U-turned on a lot and I would hope that it will [on bursary cuts], but I think its intentions with this run deeper.
“It wants to privatise the NHS and this is another step in doing so, in fact one of the most significant steps.”
A government spokesman said the Department of Health did not agree with or recognise the findings.
“Currently two thirds of people who apply to become a nurse aren’t accepted for training and our plans mean up to 10,000 more training places by the end of this parliament, with student nurses getting around 25 per cent more financial support whilst they study,” he said.
But Labour shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander MP said: “This independent analysis shows just how badly thought through the Tory government’s plans are. The truth is that scrapping NHS bursaries will be bad for staff, bad for patients and bad for the NHS.”
A Save NHS Nursing Bursary lobby will be taking place in Westminster between 10am and 3pm today, followed by a rally in Central Hall.