Government plans to scrap the student nurse bursary could mean 2000 fewer people a year will apply for nursing and allied health professional courses, according to independent economic analysis by Unison and the NUS.
The analysis disputes ministers' claims that scrapping the bursary will create 10,000 new student places. Instead the estimated 71% increase in student costs are likely to lead to a 6-7% reduction in applications per yearly intake - equal to the drop of around 2000 graduates per year.
This reduction in the number of NHS students will mean fewer qualified new recruits for the NHS from 2020, causing trusts to spend more on agency staff or overseas recruitment to make up the shortfall, says the report.
'The government claims there are huge savings to be made from scrapping the bursary, but this analysis suggests the reverse is true. Fewer students coming out of university will mean trusts have no option but to go even further into the red as they have to up their spending on agency staff and overseas recruitment,' said Unison head of health Christina McAnea. 'But it’s not too late for ministers to admit they were wrong, and start looking at other ways of encouraging people to consider careers in health. The government needs to rethink these ill-conceived plans.'
The London Economics analysis found that after 2017 students on nursing or other health degress will graduate with debts of just under £49,000. At the moment students are ending their three year courses with debts of just under £7000.
NUS national president Megan Dunn said: 'The government is gambling with the future of the NHS and repeatedly ignoring the voices of those who will be hit hardest by these changes. Driving students further into such enormous debt will have a damaging impact on individual students, the wider intake and the universities that run these courses. Ultimately this proposal will limit access, rather than widen it.'
The publication of the study coincides with a Save the NHS Nursing Bursary lobby in Westminster on 25 May. It will be followed by a rally in Central Hall from 3-4.30pm with speakers include Ms McAnea and shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander.
RCN Student Committe member Kathryn Davies, attending the lobby, said that as a mature student, 'I wouldn't have been able to do my training if I didn't get my fees paid and receive a bursary. 'Having your fees paid by the NHS makes students feel valued. It makes you feel like the NHS wants you. To take that away is such a shame.'