Training to be a midwife or a nurse is a gruelling business. Not only have you to study for a degree but you are expected to work 2,300 hours over the course of three years as a healthcare assistant. Twelve and a half hour shifts, often over nights and weekends, meaning that getting a second job to help with your living expenses often proves impossible.
Did I mention that healthcare assistants don't get paid for the 2,300 hours they work in order to qualify? And that, when wards are short-staffed, they have to step in for their paid colleagues (but still receive no wage for doing so)?
Until recently, student nurses and midwives could get some of their childcare paid for (people tend to train when somewhat older than the average student, when they may already have a family of their own). Now that subsidy has been removed, and travel expenses are following suit.
Now the government plan to do away with the bursaries that student midwives and nurses have relied upon in order to train, replacing them with loans. These bursaries are already means tested, resulting in some getting as low as £63 a month. On top of that, they will now have to pay tuition fees, something that has already seen a large drop in mature students on other courses.
Campaigners against the removal of the bursaries have calculated that, without bursaries, childcare or travel expenses, and with tuition fees and loans, nurses and midwives will accrue debts of around £60,000 over the span of their three year course. And what hope have they of paying that off when nurses have lost 10% of their pay since 2010 and there is documented evidence that some working in London hospitals have had to resort to food banks in order to eat?
Yes, other students accrue debts and pay tuition fees, but they are not expected to work 2,300 hours for free. Also, if we deter nurses and midwives from entering their professions we will all suffer, as already only 44% of qualified nurses are working in the NHS, such as the problem with retention. Indeed, in London alone there are currently around ten thousand nursing vacancies.
As Danielle Tiplady, a newly qualified nurse and lead campaigner with 'Bursary or Bust' says: "The removal of the bursary risks the entire future of the NHS. This is all part of the government's plan though: set our NHS up to fail and then be sold off. The future of our professions, the care of our patients and our entire health service is hanging in the balance."
On Saturday I joined hundreds outside St Thomas' Hospital in London. We marched together to the Department of Health to demand that these hard working professions are supported and appreciated in the way they should be, rather than treated in this disdainful manner.
And this is an equality issue: 99% of midwives and 79% of nurses are women. Midwives of course work exclusively with women. Remember when the government supposedly had to do an Equalities Impact Assessment before it made government decisions? In 2012 David Cameron announced that they would be no longer doing them, and now we can see exactly why.