MORE than 1,000 nurses, NHS campaigners and trade unionists marched through London last Saturday from St Thomas’s Hospital, along the Thames South Bank to Waterloo Bridge, across the river and through the Strand to Whitehall and the headquarters of the Department of Health, to protest at Tory plans to do away with student nurse bursaries.
Student nurses, unlike other students, work on hospital wards doing strenuous and difficult work looking after patients whilst they are learning. And for this they are paid a bursary by the Government to cover their living costs and their education.
When they graduate they get a wage but it still does not put them in the top flight of earners that other students aspire to.
Now the Government wants to treat student nurses like other students and do away with the bursaries, forcing student nurses to take out huge student loans to cover the costs of their education. Effectively the student nurses will be paying in order to be able to work – instead of wages they will be given a mountain of debt at the start of their career. This plan is due to be implemented by August 2017.
Nursing unions fear that scrapping NHS bursaries will leave student nurses, midwives and other health professionals with over £52,000 worth of debt, and will discourage many people from becoming healthcare professionals, with disastrous repercussions for patient safety.
UNISON and the National Union of Students (NUS) commissioned a report by London Economics and found that removing the bursary will:
- · Put thousands of healthcare students and graduates into debt.
- · Reduce the number of people taking up healthcare places in higher education by as many as 2000.
- · Cause a fall in income for Higher education institutions of between £55 million and £77 million per student intake.
- · Lead to a significant increase in staff shortages in the NHS, which will increase dependency on agency and overseas staff. The costs associated with this could wipe out all the potential savings the government claims removing the bursary will make.
The nursing unions were out in full force on the march: Unison, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Unite and other unions, along with activists from People’s Democracy and many other groups campaigning to save the NHS.
Also on the march were designer Vivienne Westwood, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, NUS leader Malia Bouattia and the NHS Singers.
And along the route, near Charing Cross Station, the march was joined by a contingent from Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC).
The march finished in a rally outside Richmond House in Whitehall, which is the headquarters of the Department of Health.
After some songs from the NHS Singers, Vivienne Westwood told crowds to “fight for the economic conditions necessary for our nurses to survive and thrive”.
Natalie Bennett of the Green Party said: “If you’re paying fees you don’t have a bursary –you’re actually paying to work in the NHS, you are paying to work for the Government, which really is a new low at austerity.”
Unions such as The RCN, Unison and the British Medical Association (BMA) have shown their support to the campaign.
Unison said the plans would mean around 2,000 fewer people studying healthcare every year, based on economic research.
Sarah Nash, a junior doctor and a member of the singing group, said: “We need more nurses on the wards, not less, and removing nursing bursaries is only going to reduce nursing numbers in the long term. It’s no incentive to go into nursing.
“Nurses are already paid little enough for the valuable job they do, so I absolutely back nurses in this, 100 per cent.”
The campaign has received support from the public and a petition set up by student Danielle Tiplady to protest against the cuts has now been signed by more than 100,000 people.
Danielle, who organised the Bursary or Bust demonstration, said the turnout was “amazing”. She added: “This demonstrates how much support and energy is behind bursary or bust and we urge the government to reconsider their cuts to funding immediately.”