The mainstream news has made a big deal of Boris’ commitment to restore the bursary for student nurses. This rather small amount of money (£6,000 per year) was ended by a previous Tory administration in 2016, resulting in a very significant decline in student nurse numbers. The new, far right administration has decided to sweeten the pill of its own policy portfolio by restoring it, apparently as part of the bid to increase nursing numbers by 50, 000 after the election. We now learn that this figure is intended to be achieved a full 10 years after the election, that 19,000 of those nurses are already nursing in the NHS and that there is no cohesive plan to retain the qualified nurses currently leaving the NHS in droves due to Tory mismanagement of the health service.
But let’s examine this ‘generous’ bursary claim, shall we?
I began my nurse training in 1992 with a bursary on £4,800 and no charge for tuition fees. That amounted to around £90 per week out of which I had to find food, rent, textbooks, and clothing for work. In the trust I trained at psych nurses wore suits and so did the students. Qualified staff got their suits paid for but we didn’t. I had to budget for suits, shirts and decent shoes for work as well. At the start of our training we were all given a voucher worth £50.00 for textbooks from the local Waterstones but as you might imagine that didn’t go terribly far.
Life was hard in those days. Three years on we were still on the same £4,800 a year. Most of us had to take second jobs just to survive. I regularly used to cycle 10 miles to a local nursing home to work a night shift after work or college only to cycle back again in the morning, have a quick shower and turn up back on the ward for my shift in the NHS. But, of course, things are different now…
The majority of today’s students will receive a bursary of £5,000 per year. That’s about £8 a week more than I got 28 years ago. And they’ll have tuition fees to pay for and much higher rents. My accommodation in the nurses home was on the hospital grounds. It was subsidised by the NHS but even the nurses home is no longer a thing in today’s dog eat dog NHS market.
Some lucky students, for example those who follow me into psychiatric nursing will receive more, up to £8,000 apparently. That’s about £160 a week. Again, hardly a lot when you have textbooks to buy and suitable ward clothing to maintain. How much of that will go on accommodation? How much on food or travel to placements which are now much further afield than they were in my day due to the way services are delivered post 2012.
If we want to maintain a strong nursing profession we need to look after our new entrants. It’s a hard life being a student nurse, especially once the student becomes ‘part of the numbers’ and is relied upon as a pair of hands on placement, no longer there just to learn but actually to work as well. There are lectures to attend, placement assessments and assignments to pass, exams to cram for and still, clinical work to do as part of the nursing team just like any other. It can be exhausting.
If Boris really thinks a few grand a year will be a significant encouragement to new students I think he’s sadly mistaken, especially when so many qualified nurses are leaving the profession they love because it’s just too hard to make ends meet. And if that’s true for qualified staff, what chance have the poor students?