Royal College of Nursing calls on government to increase NHS investment after slump in nursing degree applications

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) have called on the government to increase investment in health and social care, after a drop in applications for nursing degrees.

The bursaries are to be replaced with standard student loans, which will be available from 1st August. NHS Business Services Authority will still provide additional funding for some. Students with dependent children will still be eligible for the £1000 grant, and £3000 will be available for some with severe hardships.

Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, called on all political parties to commit to long-term funds that patients and services desperately need: “After funding for nursing students was cut in England, the number of university applications fell by almost a quarter this year. Fully funded training would help nursing to continue to attract the best and brightest into the profession.

“For too long, nursing staff have been undervalued and underpaid. The results can be seen in the spiraling number of vacant jobs, collapsing morale and services that are struggling to cope,” she said.

There was a protest in January 2016 to ‘Keep the NHS Bursary’ and a subsequent petition which garnered 160,000 signatures. Despite this, there has been a decline of 23% in applications for nursing courses in 2017.

The government responded to the petition last year by stating that abolishing bursaries would create a more sustainable model for universities, adding: “We expect this to enable up to 10,000 addition nursing, midwifery and allied health training places.” It will reportedly save the government £800m a year.

This fall in nursing applications comes at a time when more and more nurses are leaving the profession. A recent RCN survey on the conditions within nursing said: “They are exhausted, morale is low and it’s affecting the care they are able to provide.”

The survey also stated that more people are leaving the profession, with some having to take second jobs and rely on food banks. When Andrew Marr put this question to the Prime Minister this weekend, Theresa May replied by saying there were many complex reasons why people use food banks.

Lucinda Hall, currently in her final year of training, was among the last to receive the bursary: “Without it I would have had get a student finance loan to cover it. Luckily I get a student maintenance loan as well as the NHS grant of £1000, plus my fees are paid for an I get a means tested bursary on top.”

Belinda Walden, looking to study Child Nursing at Sheffield Hallam in September, said: “the NHS struggles as it is, so stopping bursaries to support individuals aspiring to become nurses.”

But bursaries will still be available for some students in Sheffield. A spokesperson for University of Sheffield said their Postgraduate Nursing course had received an extension, meaning students starting in 2017/18 will still receive them.