Removing nursing bursaries is ‘counter-intuitive’ – NHSCC

Government plans to abolish bursaries for student nurses, midwives and other health professionals have been strongly opposed by the NHS Clinical Commissioners (NHSCC) nursing forum, which has said that a greater assessment of the impact of the proposals is needed.

In its response to the consultation into the proposals, the nursing forum said: “Our members feel strongly that funding and financial support should be provided for all nursing, midwifery and allied health professional (AHP) students through the NHS Bursary scheme, rather than the proposed standard student support system.

“The feedback we have received from some of our nursing forum members is that they do not agree with the proposed policy and feel it would not result in an increased supply of trained nurses, midwives and AHPs.”

It says that a greater supply of nurses is urgently needed to deliver the higher staffing levels recommended in the Francis report and to implement the reforms to the health system set out in the Five Year Forward View.

The government has argued that removing the bursaries will improve staffing levels because it will lift the cap on the number of nurses that can be recruited, but NHSCC said that there was “no clear evidence” that it would encourage more students to apply.

It also said that it was “counter-intuitive” to abolish the bursaries, because they provide support to students who may not otherwise be able to apply.

NHSCC added that the proposals could make it particularly hard for mature students and students from low income and BME backgrounds to become nurses.

Proposal could affect ‘quality of services’ and should be assessed

The response also said that the abolition of bursaries could affect the quality of nursing students as well as the quantity because students could be chosen “based upon the ability to pay rather than the key values and skills required in the nursing profession”.

“As commissioners our members need to be assured of the quality of services being delivered, and that they have the appropriate workforce available to deliver this,” it said.

NHSCC recommended that the introduction of the proposals should be paused so that a workforce planning assessment should be made.

It also said that current assessments of the impact of this policy and future staffing levels in the NHS have not modelled the impact of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

Following the referendum result, Professor Jane Cummings, the chief nursing officer for England, said that NHS staff from EU countries, who make up 4% of the registered nursing workforce, are “valued and hugely appreciated” but could not say what the impact of the referendum vote might be.

Gummer defends proposals as MP warns of ‘catastrophe’

In a House of Commons questions session yesterday Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, the newly elected MP for Tooting, challenged Ben Gummer, the parliamentary under-secretary to the Department of Health, over the impact of the removal of bursaries.

Gummer said: “I believe that changes in nurse bursaries will enable us to get more nurses and healthcare professionals into the NHS. There has been a similar development in the rest of the higher education sector, and I want to replicate that success in the NHS so that we can provide it with the workers that it requires.”

He added that the abolition of bursaries would not discourage mature students because the number of mature students in general higher education had increased since the introduction of £9,000 a year tuition fees.

However, Justin Madders, the MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, disagreed with Gummer, saying that according to the universities minister, the number of mature students had decreased by 22%.

“If that were repeated in the health sector, what is already a staffing crisis would become a catastrophe,” he said. “The minister has said that an extra 10,000 training places will be created during the current Parliament, but everything I have heard from the government suggests that that figure was plucked out of thin air.”

A number of professional bodies, including the Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Midwives, Patients Association and trade unions, are campaigning against the abolition of bursaries.

In an appearance before the Health Select Committee last week, Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, said that the proposals could make the shortages of midwives worse.

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