Cutting free tuition and bursaries for student nurses seems to be a good candidate for the one of the worst social policy decisions of the decade…
The NHS is currently critically short of nurses, with 42 000 posts in England unfilled.
This seems to be due to a decision by the Tory party in 2015 to remove free tuition and bursaries for those undertaking nursing courses, requiring nursing students to take out loans to cover their fees and costs of living while studying.
It appears that the prospect of starting a nursing career up to £50K in debt has but people off applying for nursing in droves. Since 2016 nursing applications have dropped by one third, and they are down 40% among mature students.
There seems to be a direct correlation here between the removal of bursaries and people deciding to not do nursing courses, which makes sense given that nursing is a low paid, stressful and low status career: who would want to start out £50K in debt?
In 2015, it was projected that the policy would have saved £1 billion a year, but this is almost certainly not going to be the case as it is estimated that nearly 50% of loans to student nurses will be written off because they will never earn above the repayment threshold, and because of the requirement to hire nurses through more expensive agencies.
It is estimated that replacing agency nurses with regular full-time nurses would save the NHS £560 million a year.
Why did the Tories introduce this policy?
It could be due a total disconnect between elite Tories and the kinds of people doing nursing degrees. Most Tories will have no idea what it’s like living on marginal wages and the difference bursaries can make down at the bottom of the pay scale.
Or it might be ideological – deliberately done to put the NHS in crisis and make it more expensive to run, justifying (in a downward spiral) the further outsourcing and selling off for profit later. Tories don’t need it after all, they have private health care.
It can’t be due to any rational decision making as this policy clearly makes no financial sense on any level.