Last year Chancellor George Osborne said that bursaries for nursing students and other undergraduate healthcare courses would be replaced by student loans from August 2017.
The announcement led to more than 1,300 people from across the UK contacting the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to tell their story, setting out why the bursary is necessary to produce the nurses needed to safely care for patients in the future.
Nurses from across the Eastern region were among those who got in touch, many of whom are still in training and know the importance of having a bursary to support them while they work as part of their course.
Many point out that nursing is unlike most other degree courses because students must complete many hours working unpaid in the NHS as well as doing their studies. This makes it very difficult to take on paid work to fit around their course.
Many are also mature students with families to support while they complete their training.
Katie Scripps, who lives in Ipswich, said without the bursary she would be unable to pay for rent or food, or cover the costs of travelling to her work placement.
“A nursing course demands its students to work 30-36 hours a week for patients on top of the demands of university work,” she said.
“Taking away the bursary is essentially taking away the wage we deserve for this work.
“Our bursary each year is essentially equal to a wage.”
The student, who studies at Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge, added: “Taking away the bursary will prevent the course from being financially feasible and will put off many young people who are potential nurses.
“The nursing staff shortage and reliance on agency and bank staff will only increase within the NHS, further damaging a valued service and further damaging the quality of service patients receive.”
Student Holly, also from Ipswich, said: “The money I receive from the bursary goes on living costs and not buying fancy things. I feel for those who have childcare to sort out and who already have a loan from a previous degree.
“The future of the NHS is now compromised due to such decisions and the pre-existing nurses will have time off for stress and over-work.”
Chloe Sanderson, 20, a student at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, said many students planned to work for the NHS, even though they could work abroad for more pay and fewer hours.
“What the Government should know is we want to do this job because we love it,” she said.
“There are so many emotional highs and depressing lows being a nurse, but I cannot see myself in another role.
“Our student bursary means we can afford to do this course, we can travel to our placements and then have a decent meals after a 13-hour shift on a ward.”
Naomi Southern-Augustine, a 25-year-old student from Anglia Ruskin University in Peterborough, pointed out that she spent half of each academic year working in hospitals, nursing homes and the community and when not on placement she was busy studying.
“The bursary that I receive is not enough to live on, and without my partner working full-time I simply would not be able to be a student nurse,” she said.
“We persevere because I love what I do. But take away that bursary for future nurses? The NHS shortage is just going to become more drastic as our future nurses will not be able to afford to train.”
Naomi said taking away bursaries was dangerous as students would have to seek work outside of their studies and placements, exposing them to long working weeks.
“We care for every single patient and relative that walks through our doors,” she said.
Dawn Hawes, a 38-year-old student from Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge, said: “Without the bursary it would have been too much to expect my husband to support me in my degree knowing that after three years of sacrificing a fill-time second income I would be saddled with more debt than my first year’s income.
“A mortgage and family means that every penny is accounted for.”
Dawn added: “The Government state that if will allow for 10,000 more degree places. Good luck filling them. “I do not know one person on my course that could consider doing it without the bursary.
“I am dedicated to being a nurse but not at the cost of those dependent on my ability to provide.”
Karen Webb, RCN Eastern Regional Director, said: “All these testimonies demonstrate that students and nurses are incredibly worried about the decision to end bursaries and its potential effects. And rightly so.
“If we are serious about having nurses to work in our hospitals, care homes and communities across Suffolk in future then we need to challenge this damaging decision to remove vital funding from our trainees.
“The stories sent to the RCN include those who will not be directly affected by the Government’s plans – these are people worried about the impact this will have on our future workforce. They are right to be worried.
“Student nurses and midwives are the profession’s future and their voices and concerns must be listened to and acted on.
“The RCN is 100 years old this year. The Government should recognise our long track record in the education of nurses and listen to our concerns about their ill thought-through plans.”