THE BLOG

Why the NHS Student Walkout Matters

10/02/2016 11:00
  • Shelly Asquith Vice-President (Welfare) at the National Union of Students

From the lecture theatres to the hospital wards, thousands of students will be walking out today in a fight to save our NHS.

The action, led predominantly by nursing students, is in response to the government's proposals to cut bursaries and in solidarity with the junior doctors' strike. The campaign has also explicitly linked itself to the bigger battle to save the NHS from private interests.

It matters because without these students the NHS would not function. Unlike in most courses, trainee nurses, midwives and other healthcare workers carry out work while learning. They staff our hospitals, surgeries and practices. Their unique funding package is in recognition of this.

It matters because these students have a lot to lose. Much like going on strike, walking out of placement is not an easy decision to make. A large proportion of the students facing bursary cuts are working class, mature women. Many have caring responsibilities, and have re-entered education later in life. Qualifying is a means of securing employment in an already pressurised public sector - one step out of line can have serious consequences.

It matters because despite how overworked, underpaid and largely non-unionised these students have historically been, they have built a big and militant campaign. Just weeks ago, 5000 marched through London shouting "Hunt must go", following a meeting of a small group of students at Kings College. They have since managed to gain the backing of all the health trade unions, NUS, various political parties and public figures.

It matters because the plan to cut bursaries is linked to privatisation. Being funded by the NHS (as opposed to the Student Loans Company) gives graduates an intrinsic loyalty to the institution. This move could push more towards private agencies, so it is not just a fight to keep bursaries, but a fight to defend the NHS as a public, free and sole provider.

It matters because it has a serious chance of victory. The government has underestimated the nation's devotion to the NHS and public support for the junior doctors' dispute has been unprecedented. The grassroots response of #BursaryOrBust has in some ways out-gunned many of the student movement's strategies since 2010. It has gained mass support for militant tactics in a short space of time. And it's not just on the streets - the students have taken their fight to parliament and seen questions asked in PMQs and priority debates tabled.

It matters to all of us. The cuts to bursaries will significantly impact the future workforce of the NHS, affecting anyone accessing services. That is why I am walking out with the NHS students in Manchester today. Alongside junior doctors, local community activists and students' union reps, I'll be demanding an NHS that values patients as well as the students and staff who keep it running every day.

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