SCRAPPING the bursary for student nurses will wreck dreams and deepen the NHS staffing crisis, health workers warned at the weekend as they took to the streets against the Tory cut.
Around 500 NHS staff, students and supporters brought traffic to a standstill in Westminster on Saturday afternoon as they marched from St Thomas’ Hospital to the Department of Health.
And they were joined by fashion designer Dame Vivian Westwood, who accused the government of attempting to “sabotage” the welfare of nurses and the future of the NHS.
“Bursaries are needed for nurses to survive and thrive,” she told the demonstration at the doors of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s office.
“The government have got their priorities wrong. They protect the rich and harm the poor with their rotten economic policies.
“The aim of government is to privatise healthcare so that only rich people can afford it. I think they’re so stupid that they think these rich people are going to be cared for by robots.”
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: “The plan to end the bursary is a plan to make you pay to work for the NHS. It’s a new low in austerity and we’re not going to stand for it.”
The government claims its plan to replace the bursary with student loans from August 2017 will increase the number of trainee nurses, midwives and other health professionals.
But research for Unison, whose assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie joined the march, found that the prospect of student debt could see 2,000 fewer people every year studying for a career in the NHS.
Current students told the Star how the prospect of amassing up to £50,000 in debt would have prevented them from working in the NHS.
Aspiring midwife Carmen Rose-Locke delivered a powerful speech about its effect on her future.
The 22-year-old previously won a funded place on a nursing course at Kings College but had to pull out after becoming pregnant and homeless.
She said: “I was planning to take an access course and reapply to Kings College to study midwifery. But then they announced they were cutting the bursary and I’m not exaggerating when I say that shattered my dream.
“It’s the very thing that kept me going before has been taken away from me.
“I cannot afford to have that debt on my head. My family has no wealth to pass down to me like the Tories.”
Royal College of Nursing president Cecilia Anim, who led a large delegation from the union on the protest, said the government was attempting to “do nursing on the cheap.
“But these plans threaten to make our current shortage of nurses worse,” she warned.
“If the government think they are going to increase the workforce in this way they are having a laugh.
“These changes to student funding will stop future nurses from joining our profession.”
Jordan Rivera Occupational therapist at Homerton Hospital, 39
I wouldn’t be working in the NHS at the moment if I hadn’t have got a bursary because I had already been to uni and wasn’t eligible to get a loan or anything like that. I just wouldn’t have chosen to go and work in the health service in a relatively low-paid job without that incentive. It’s not that much. I still needed to work alongside it. I worked in William Hill every Saturday throughout my degree. It was hard. We’ve already got a recruitment crisis in the NHS. At our hospital we’re missing hundreds of nurses and that’s only going to get worse if these bursaries are cut.
Rich Hodges Bucks New University, 39
I’m studying to a paediatric nurse. It runs in the family, my mum and grandmother were both paediatric nurses. But I had done a degree beforehand in performance. So honestly, if it was not for the bursary I could not have afforded to study nursing because I could not have afford to get a student loan because I had already got a degree. There’s so many people on my course who are in the same situation and who couldn’t afford £50,000.
Hannah Emery De Montford University, Leicester, 25
I’m in my third year of training to be a district nurse. The bursary has been a lifeline. I have a mortgage to pay and bills. My dad is disabled, so I don’t have any support from my family or anything. So for me it has enabled me to study. I don’t think I would have been able to otherwise.