Ahead of the Commons debate today the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warn that removing postgraduate funding could reduce student numbers further.
The number of trainee nurses is already low after changes were made to undergraduate funding – with applications to university courses falling by 33% over 2 years.
‘The decision to remove undergraduate support resulted in a collapse in trainee applications. Ministers should think very carefully before risking a further drop at a time when our health and social care system is desperately short of nurses,’ said Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN.
‘This is the quickest way to train top-quality registered nurses and should be expanded, not cut off. The current shortage of nurses is jeopardising safe and effective patient care and the Government urgently needs to encourage more people to enter the profession.’
Postgraduate courses last 2 years for students who hold degrees in other subjects and remains the fastest way of qualifying – which is particularly important as there is currently a shortage of 40,000 nurses in England alone.
While ministers announced extra undergraduate places – the same year they removed the bursary for undergraduates – they were unable to attract students to fill them as around 700 fewer students were enrolled in September 2017.
Current student fees leave most graduates leaving university in debt. The fact that a postgraduate degree in nursing was funded was the major pull for students to sign up.
‘After my undergraduate degree I was already in a lot of debt. When I looked at pursuing a career in nursing and saw it was funded, it made it more certain in my mind that I wanted to do it,’ said current postgraduate student, Georgie Ellmore-Jones.
‘At post-graduate level many of the students have families and children to look after so adding more debt will only discourage potential students.’
Last month, the RCN arranged for some student nurses to meet with MPs to explain the benefits of financial support.
‘Without the bursary I couldn’t have applied and I wouldn’t be in a career I love, giving patients the great care they deserve. I know I make a difference every day,’ said Michael Lawton, a recipient of the postgraduate bursary and registered nurse.
‘MPs I’ve spoken to are shocked at how many hours we do in clinical placement. By removing the bursary, the Government is asking people to pay to work on placements to keep the NHS afloat and that isn’t right.’