As an elected member of parliament of the United Kingdom I can attend and speak on any debates that the House has. Yesterday saw the implementation of English Votes for English Laws, it was the first time that I was barred from voting on an issue within the chamber. Despite this I will continue to take great interest in legislation that is making its way through parliament regardless of its certification. One such change currently going through parliament that I feel strongly about is the change to the NHS Bursary. Despite this being a change in England - the SNP Government in Scotland are protecting our NHS from this change - these changes, through the budget, have direct consequential impacts on Scotland. The NHS is also something I feel incredibly strongly about and I will reserve my right to pass judgement on any legislation making its way through parliament which affects our precious National Health Service.
As part of the Autumn Statement George Osborne made clear that no part of the NHS in England is safe from the Tory's austerity agenda. Osborne outlined plans to change the system in which we fund student nurses in England, changing their bursary to a loan that would need to be repaid.
The NHS Bursary is currently helping 80,000 healthcare students with their studies and paying them for the time that they contribute to the NHS. Student nurses spend 50% of their time in clinical practice working directly with patients and their families. These placements run much longer than the standard academic year. Student Nurses and Midwives frequently work long weeks, 12 hour shifts including weekends and nightshifts providing care and support in every part of the NHS. When they are not on placement they are studying, improving their care and preparing for their exams.
Jon Skewes of the Royal College of Midwives has claimed that the changes to the bursary will leave Student Midwives with £65,000 worth of debt for a three year degree programme, explaining that these fees "will deter great future midwives that the NHS so badly needs". The Government is proposing the bursary will not be available for students starting their course on or after September 2017, saving £826 million. This is a classic case of spreadsheet management where the exchequer can calculate the cost but have no grasp of the value.
Currently the bursary allows many people to come to nursing at a later point in life and this is reflected in the figures. Student nurses and midwives are usually older than other undergraduates as nursing is a profession many come to later in life. For example 5% of full-time first degree students in the UK are 30 or over, this raises to 28% in bursary holders. Many students will be simultaneously studying and supporting their family. Taking away this funding will make this profession inaccessible to a demographic that it currently supports.
It could also have a negative impact on the cultural diversity of our nurses with 14% of nursing students coming from a Black Ethnic group compared to 6% of overall students, a number that is in serious need of improvement.
This comes as Junior Doctors in England are taking to the streets in protest over the Tory's plans for the NHS and is just another example of the extreme overhauling of the NHS in England without any proper conversation or consultation with the health professionals that work within the NHS.
This is lazy economics from Osborne. His cut at all costs attitude could lead to student health care professionals having to pay to work for the NHS. The opportunity to take a nursing or midwifery course within NHS England will depend on your ability to pay, rather than your ability and desire to learn. And even then unless nurses pay improves, many who do manage to graduate will never be in a position to pay their loans back.
The Scottish Government has made a commitment to maintain the NHS Bursary meaning that people who study in Scotland will not be affected by this cut as the change is based on your location of study. However we can't turn our back on NHS England and must lend them our support at this critical time.
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