Student nurses will have to pay for their tuition and living costs using student loans rather than government-funded bursaries from 2017, the universities minister has confirmed.
Nurses currently receive an annual £1,000 non-means-tested grant and an annual means-tested NHS bursary payment of up to £4,491.
By requiring student nurses to take out repayable loans instead, the government has said it will be able to create more nurse training places, a move it believes will tackle staff shortages in the NHS.
The government announced plans for the changes to student nurse finance arrangements during the spending review last November. A consultation into the move heard opposition from nurses, universities and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
But on Thursday, the government confirmed that despite the opposition, bursaries will definitely be scrapped from 1 August 2017.
Those training to become nurses, allied health professionals, and midwives will be "subject to the same general student finance arrangements that apply to other undergraduate students in 2017/18", universities and science minister Jo Johnson said in a statement published on the last day before parliament's summer recess.
"These changes will enable universities to provide up to 10,000 additional nursing, midwifery and allied health training places by 2020, giving more applicants the opportunity to become a health professional," he said.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said it was "unfair and risky" to place the financial burden on nurses when attempting to resolve workforce issues in the NHS.
“Nurses will be dismayed that these plans will go ahead with no testing, despite the overwhelming concerns which they have consistently raised," she said in a statement.
Nurses have argued that because they spend 50% of their degree on a training placement, they should be considered differently to other students, and that forcing them to take out loans also equates to making them pay to work.
Many have also warned that the prospect of debt, which the union Unison has estimated could be up to £50,000, could act as a deterrent and actually lead to a reduction of nurses in the workforce.
Danielle Tiplady, a third-year student nurse at King's College London who has campaigned heavily for students to keep the bursary, told BuzzFeed News the government's decision was "disastrous and shameful".
"There have been protests, petitions, lobbies, impact assessments, and stories shared by NHS students and qualified frontline staff stating they would not have completed healthcare courses without the bursary," she said.
"As it stands now, the future workforce of the NHS is at significant risk and hangs in the balance."
Tiplady said that if the government expects qualified nurses to pay back student loans then it must reassess their salaries – which currently start at £25,000 in London and £21,000 elsewhere – to make this affordable.
Sophia Koumi, vice president for student education at King's College student union, who is also due to start work as a mental health nurse, said she was "outraged and distraught" by the decision.
"The government just hasn't listened and is now pushing ahead with plans that will be so detrimental to nursing," she said.
"The consultation was just a farce – they haven't taken anything on board. I worry for the NHS now and for the future of nursing."
Both Tiplady and Koumi have vowed to continue their campaigning for more support for NHS trainees.
Some concessions were made by the government following the consultation, however, particularly for students with children or who are studying nursing as a second degree.
A particular concern expressed by campaigners was that because the average age of student nurses is 29, many might have financial commitments such as mortgages that would make taking on a student loan untenable.
The Department of Health has said it will offer £1,000-per-year in childcare support to students with children and allow those taking a second degree to gain access to the student loan system, where previously they would not have been eligible for a loan.
The government said it will also work with the RCN to issue bursary payments to those considered to be in "exceptional hardship", but stopped short of defining what the criteria for that situation would be.
"We’ve listened to feedback from the consultation and as a result will provide extra funding to help cover additional expenses like travel and more support for students with children," health minister Philip Dunne said in a statement announcing the changes.
He said the scrapping of bursaries would create 10,000 new training places for "home-grown nurses" by 2020 while giving them access to 25% more financial support in the form of a loan.
Although the RCN said members were unhappy with the changes overall, Davies welcomed these concessions.
"It is positive that the government has listened to some of our concerns including the transitional bursaries for postgraduates and hardship funds," she said, "but there is still a worrying lack of clarity on clinical placements."
Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Laura Silver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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