Labour will use the final day of Parliament before the general election to stage a last-ditch attempt to protect student nurse bursaries from Tory cuts.
In a final act of defiance, Lord Clark of Windermere has called for a Lords debate on an ‘outrageous’ government decision to scrap bursaries for trainee health workers.
Blogging for Huff Post UK, Lord Clark says he has tabled a ‘Regret Motion’ against Conservative plans to end the bursary scheme for student nurses and those studying health-related degrees from this autumn.
The motion is set to be debated in the Lords on Thursday and is expected to be among its final business before Parliament dissolves on May 3.
‘Lord Clark of Windermere to move that this House regrets that the Education (Student Fees, Awards and Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2017, which pave the way for students of nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals to receive loans rather than bursaries, have already been seen to discourage degree applications by a quarter, at the same time as Brexit has already reduced European Union migrant nursing and midwifery registrations by over 90 per cent; and that these factors risk turning an increasing problem in the National Health Service into a chronic one that potentially puts at risk safe levels of staffing.’
The former Cabinet minister says the number of trained European healthcare workers applying to come to Britain has fallen dramatically since the Brexit referendum and blamed Theresa May’s refusal to guarantee residency for EU nationals.
“This is a tragic situation which ministers are about to make worse by risking the future recruitment of UK students. In a rather outrageous move they plan to change the time-honoured practice of training nurses and midwives, by requiring them to fund their own courses,” Lord Windermere says.
“These professions are far from well-paid, yet the decision to scrap the bursary scheme from this autumn will see student nurses and midwives paying fees of £9000 for each year of a three-year course. Add in living costs and they will begin their nursing career with debts approaching £50,000.”
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth this week pledged to reinstate the scheme if Labour wins the election in June, as well as end the 1% pay cap for nurses and midwives and introduce new legislation on safe staffing.
The party says there are currently 26,000 unfilled nursing posts and 3,500 midwife vacancies - and leaked Department of Health documents have reportedly warned of up to 42,000 nursing vacancies by 2025.
Lord Clark, who served as MP for South Shields for 22 years before standing down in 2001, accused the Conservatives of being ‘determined to make student nurses pay for the privilege of learning to look after people in hospital’.
But Health Minister Philip Dunne said only Theresa May offered the ‘strong and stable’ leadership needed to secure the economy and funding for the NHS.
“We’ve protected and increased the NHS budget and got thousands more staff in hospitals,” he added.
“But all that’s at risk with Jeremy Corbyn’s nonsensical economic policies that would mean less money for the NHS. Just look at Wales where Labour’s economic mismanagement mean they had to cut funding.”