Plea to bring back NHS bursaries for nurses after massive drop in applications

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By Adam Smith

A parliamentary petition calling for nursing bursaries to be reinstated in England after a huge drop in nursing applications has reached 13,000 signatures in a week.

Since the Government axed bursaries in 2016, applications for nursing degrees have fallen by a third and student nursing numbers have dropped by 11%. There are currently 41,000 nursing vacancies in NHS England with fears Brexit will cause a further exodus of foreign healthcare professionals.

The NHS in Scotland and Wales continue to offer grants to nursing students but West Lancashire councillor Elizabeth Savage – the Labour parliamentary candidate for Southport – says removing nurses bursaries in England was a ‘catastrophic mistake’. She launched the petition to bring them back this week and if it gains 100,000 signatures then her demand will be debated in Parliament.

Ms Savage told ‘It has been amazing to see the petition take off over the last few days. I think it is because people realise this is a nursing crisis for NHS England. ‘We need as many nurses as we can get now because there are 41,000 vacancies but stripping people of the chance of getting a bursary makes the decision to become a nurse even harder. ‘People who want to retrain to become a nurse will certainly think twice because they will be worried about getting into debt and working class applicants will find it harder to complete their course.’

She added: ‘You cannot expect nurses to work on the side during their placements, they will be absolutely shattered. ‘With Brexit around the corner, nobody knows what is going to happen, there are so many foreign nurses who are scared right now and many have already started leaving.

‘And it is not just nurses who have had their bursaries removed, NHS professionals like radiographers are in the same situation too.’ The Royal College of Nursing revealed there were 16,580 fewer applicants in September this year compared to March 2016 when there were bursaries. Kelly, a nurse in Birmingham who did not want to give her last name, told ‘Bursaries were important because student nurses work 37.5 hours a week and have to study as well. ‘We risk more people dying with no nurses as they are often the backbone of medical teams.’

Mel, a nurse in Somerset, said she would not have qualified as a nurse unless it wasn’t for her bursary. ‘When I got a bursary it meant I didn’t have to try and work while I did placements,’ she told ‘It wasn’t huge, it used to be £560 a month for a single person or about £800 if you had kids. ‘It is a very hard course to get through anyway regardless of money but now students have to pay fees as well it is not surprising the NHS have the lowest amount of nurses joining at the moment. ‘As a huge number of nurses are from European countries there is going to be a huge deficit after Brexit.’

Former Royal College of Nursing chief executive Janet Davies said failing to recruit more nurses ‘puts patients at risk’. ‘We cannot sit back and watch applications fall year on year, it is clear now that removing the bursary has been a disaster,’ she said. ‘It is time ministers looked again at this policy, before patients suffer the consequences.’ Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP told last month’s Labour conference he would reinstate nursing bursaries if elected into Government. has contacted the Department of Health for a comment.



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