The Blog

NHS Student Bursary Cuts

The breadth of knowledge and clinical skills needed to be a safe and competent practitioner is very wide. As well as these taught skills, there are the hard-to-teach, intrinsic social skills and communication nuances that need to be honed.

I wrote this last week with the word "might" in place of "has". It is very personal and fairly lengthy. I am not someone who overly uses social media to make private personal thoughts public: BUT given the current situation, I wanted to tell my own story, and make it clear what these newly announced cuts to the NHS can mean for many people.

I am 28 years old. This year I left my successful career as a self employed, freelance sculptor to enter back into university to re-train as a Midwife.

I previously studied Fine Art at Central Saint Martins; one of the most popular art courses in the country. I gained a 1st class honours degree and was offered a job as sculptor. I worked hard and soon went freelance, I fully supported myself: living comfortably, having an active social life and little responsibility for anyone or anything much, except myself.

Many years of side projects and self evaluation led me to want to change track. In a very short round up: alongside working, I travelled to the other side of the world, studied a counselling course, I sign Fijian and British Sign Language, and recently voluntarily mentored a young child for nearly two years for a London based charity.

All of these endeavours seemed very disparate at the time, yet I came to realise that they all had one essential thing in common: communication. Giving people tools to deal with challenges, supporting someone through an experience, being present without judgement, and essentially helping people recognise their choices and supporting them whichever way they choose. This in my view, is the essence of midwifery. And so it was midwifery I chose to pursue.

Midwives are experts in pregnancy and labour. As a first year student midwife I have three years ahead of learning human biology, the physiology of labour, pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, emergencies in labour, complications in pregnancy, to name but a few of the modules.

The breadth of knowledge and clinical skills needed to be a safe and competent practitioner is very wide. As well as these taught skills, there are the hard-to-teach, intrinsic social skills and communication nuances that need to be honed. These are so vital in supporting women throughout pregnancy, especially meeting women from different socio-economic backgrounds, cultures and religions. It is rightfully seen as a privilege to be in such a position to support and care for these women.

This is why places on midwifery degrees are highly competitive. There are UCAS points to be met, a glowing personal statement to be written. Then if you are successful: a multiple mini interview to pass (6 short speed dating style interviews for which you cannot prepare) and in house maths and English exams with a pass mark of 80%. Once you meet all these criteria and hopefully gain a place, the fees are paid for by the NHS. You are then granted a bursary. This is to support the student during their studies to be able to live while they study to qualify and become a practising midwife. I am given £535 per month to live (pay my rent, bills, travel, eat etc.). This as I'm sure will surprise no one, does not even cover half of my outgoings living in London, where I study. I was given a humble maintenance loan of £3,000 for the year, as I already have a debt of £25,000 from my first degree. Still, I am lucky, as I am relying on savings from my previous job to live day to day.

George Osborne has now cut nursing and midwifery bursaries (and radiographers and physiotherapists... The list goes on) and will now charge students for tuition.

This is disgraceful.

I am not alone in my course to be starting this degree as a path to a second career. Well over half of my cohort have studied a first degree in another subject and many of my fellow colleagues are over 30 years old. They have children and partners and elderly parents and mortgages. The dynamism of a course with students from all walks of life, bringing different experiences, fully enriches the eventual profession. My fellow students came to the conclusion, as did I, that being part of a public service such as the NHS is a worthy and fulfilling life choice.It is worth the upheaval and sacrifices that come with a three year degree, which is split 50/50 between (unpaid) shift work on placement and a 40 hour per week academic timetable, in which we are discouraged from trying to squeeze in a part time job. So, why is it worth it?

Two months ago I was sculpting flowers for the windows of one of the largest and most famous department stores in the world. Two days ago I witnessed a woman give birth on her living room floor. I saw the calm, caring and intelligent midwife reassure her that there was nothing to be frightened of and that she was safe. She encouraged the woman to listen and respond to her body. The absolute trust the labouring mother had in the midwife was simply incredible, she felt safe and supported to give birth peacefully in her own home, without fear. As she had wished. It was a life affirming moment.

Yet George Osborne has cut all funding for this job and these experiences.

He will make it impossible for people to enter into midwifery. He argues that removing the bursary, means removing the cap on places, means more students can train. This is short sighted and false. So many people will be put off by the lack of financial support and massive debts the will incur.

Less new midwives, means over working midwives who are already being pushed to the point of burn out. The staff shortages in maternity care mean that often the NHS have to rely on agency staff, the RCM website states in a report dated 20th November 2015:

'A failure to have the right numbers of staff to deliver the safest and best care ultimately leads to greater costs in the long term. In maternity services this is eroding choice for women and their families and ultimately will have a negative effect on the care they receive.

'The deficit that has been revealed today makes it even more imperative that next week chancellor George Osborne commits to front loading the £8bn pounds he had promised by 2020. If the NHS has to wait until 2020 it will, by then, be on its knees.'

How can there be enough staff, if there is no funding for students to qualify and enter into the profession? Where is the impetus for people to enter into training for a job where the starting salary is £21,388, if they need to spend £27,000 in fees alone? When they need to train and study a minimum of 40 hours a week for three years, in things such as: giving injections, resuscitating new born babies, taking blood, monitoring in-uterine fetal wellbeing and managing a life threatening post partum haemorrhage? Without funding available to support students through this, I can't foresee how it would be possible to complete the training. We cannot survive on good will alone.

We as student midwives learn how important it is to provide individualised women centered care, we are all proud to be working alongside, being taught by and being inspired by brilliant midwives who actually care for fellow human beings.

The NHS is our life source, all of us were born of our mothers, they laboured and delivered us: nearly all of them would have been supported by a midwife.

What is happening to the NHS is gravely worrying, student doctors, nurses and midwives are essentially going into a system that is crumbling around them. Yet the desire to be a part of something utilitarian in its founding: serving the general population and caring for each person's needs on an individual basis without prejudice or judgment, is deemed important enough to justify the relative hardships that come with this choice.

We are striving to gain the education to become the most knowledgeable, caring and compassionate professionals we can possibly be, and yet, without hesitation and with one slice of his already blood stained scalpel George Osborne has cut the cord to that life giving education. He will let it bleed dry, unless we make our voices and experiences heard. Unless, like many of the brutal cuts to public services in the UK, it becomes personal, we the general public may not realise what is happening to our NHS until it is too late. We will sleep walk into a situation where the NHS simply no longer exists.

It is absolutely heartbreaking.