I share your concerns about the decision to abolish student nurse bursaries and I agree with you that Ministers should reinstate NHS bursaries and invest in nursing higher education.
Our NHS staff are the very best in the world. They do so much to make our health service one to be proud of and deserve our respect, admiration and support. Yet years of pay restraint, cuts to training budgets, and the Government’s failure to invest in and plan appropriately for the workforce has resulted in more than 100,000 vacancies across the NHS.
As you will know there is a recruitment and retention crisis. The NHS are struggling because of a lack of staff, because of the lack of funding there is an increase pressure on doctors and nurses who are having to work double shifts and use foodbanks to provide for their family. I welcome any doctors who are wanting to come and work for such an invaluable service, which is why I was shocked to see reports of doctors having their visas turned down and being prevented from entering the UK to work for the NHS.
The Government have taken NHS staff for granted and created a workforce crisis in the NHS which is causing misery for patients. Hospital wards and GP surgeries are chronically understaffed this then has the knock on effect is waiting lists which are spiralling out of control. All this threatens the quality of care that patients will receive.
Figures published by NHS improvement in March show that across the NHS there are more than 100,000 staff vacancies, including 40,000 nurses and 11,000 doctors, 12,000 nursing support staff and 11,000 scientific technical and therapeutic staff.
The removal of financial support for students of health professions has seen applications for health degrees plummet. Applications for nursing and midwifery degrees fell by 23% last year and a further 10% this year. Ministers claimed that the removal of bursaries would fund an extra 10,000 nursing places, but in fact 700 fewer students have started nursing degree courses this year compared to last. According to the British Medical Journal, between 2001 and 2010 the number of nurses rose by an average of 1.61% every year. However from 2010 to 2014 there was a rise of just 0.07% which is 20 times lower than the previous decade. Numbers of community nurses, mental health nurses and learning disability nurses have all fallen since 2010.
The Government’s chaotic approach to Brexit is also threatening the ability of health employers to recruit from overseas. The number of nurses and midwives coming to work in Britain from Europe fell by 89% in the year after the UK voted to leave the EU and the number of doctors coming to the UK from the EU fell 9% in 2017 according to the General Medical Council.
I am disappointed that rather than investing in healthcare students and protecting their bursaries – which help with living costs and tuition fees – students are now being asked to pay to train to work in the NHS. It is concerning that the Royal College of Nursing recently confirmed that nursing degree applications have fallen by 30% since the bursary was removed.
Independent health think tanks are now warning that there will be a 250,000 shortfall of NHS staff by 2030. I am concerned that staff shortages are putting patient care at risk. Without immediate and determined action, backed by investment from the Government, the NHS workforce crisis will only get worse. If Ministers are serious about tackling the workforce crisis and increasing the nursing workforce, they should reinstate NHS bursaries and invest in nursing higher education.
Last year, MPs debated an Opposition motion calling on the Government to reverse its decision to scrap the nurse bursary to ensure that our education system is fair and sustainable. While I voted for the motion, Government MPs voted against it and it was defeated.
Thank you once again for contacting me about this important issue. I will continue to press Ministers to reinstate NHS bursaries and ensure that a credible strategy to support and recruit the workforce for the future is at the heart of NHS planning. I have also written to the Minister and will share the reply when I receive it.