Union action needed to defeat attack on student nurses

Trade union action needed to defeat attack on student nurses

Unison health workers

The government’s 2015 Autumn Statement announced that it intends to end the payment of student bursaries for nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students – as proposed by the Council of Deans of Health – from 1 September 2017. This has been met with anger and alarm.

This attack would end the payment of the tuition fees by Health Education England to the universities and end the maintenance bursary and potentially the placement support funding.


Unison, the largest health union, Unite and student nurses are opposing these attacks, which undermine opportunities for accessing health education for many potential students.

If implemented, once it applies to all student groups, the saving to the government would be £1.2 billion a year.

From September 2017, the NHS bursary for training nurses, midwives and allied students will end and they will have to pay tuition fees. Students will be able to apply for a loan to cover tuition fees and a maintenance loan. The fees are likely to be the same as for other students, ie at least £9,000 a year.

It is not fully clear how the current placement funding will be distributed and there is a possibility that universities will ask students to fund their placements.

Preliminary Unison forecasts, based on the continuation of pay restraint and the use of tuition fees and loans from 2017, estimate that a student graduating in 2020 will face debts of £51,600 and a starting salary of £22,799.

Staff could be paying this debt off for 30 years! Unison held a survey which found that 90% of current nurses wouldn’t have been able to complete training without a bursary.

Clearly this prospect will deter many from taking up these careers in the NHS. In particular this could have a devastating impact in nursing where the average age of students is 28 and half have childcare or other caring responsibilities.

The news of the attack was met by a demonstration outside the Department of Health on 2 December. The protest attracted 500 students, healthcare professionals and members of the public from all over the UK.

Since then over 148,000 people have signed the Keep the NHS Bursary petition and there is a student-organised national demonstration in London on 9 January. This is followed by a debate in the House of Commons on 11 January.


Healthcare workers, students and members of the public must unite to resist yet another attack on the NHS, this coming at the same time as other cuts and privatisation as well as the junior doctors’ strike over their contract dispute.

The Tories are out to destroy our health service but health workers, unions and the public must fight together to save it. Striking together to defeat these attacks must be a part of the campaign.