Student nurses, midwives, and allied health professionals (AHPs) are planning a week of protests over cuts to their bursary from 8 February that will include a placement walkout during the junior doctors strike on 10 February.
The government recently announced that in a bid to create 10,000 more course places, it will replace the bursaries available to student nurses, midwives, and AHPs with loans, starting next year.
Instead of receiving an NHS bursary payment of up to £4,491 while studying and completing full-time training placements, students will be expected to take out loans to fund their living costs – trade union Unison has estimated the loans will see student nurses qualifying with around £50,000 of debt.
On 9 January, thousands of student nurses, midwives, AHPs, and their supporters marched to Downing Street to protest against the switch to loans, and from 8–14 February, they will undergo a week of action to further dispute the changes. Action will include walkouts by those who are on work placements during the scheduled week of protest.
"The protest made a big impact, and helped us get a lot more people on board, but we need to keep the momentum going," one student nurse involved in organising the week of action who preferred not to be named told us.
"This isn't going to be an overnight win. It's our right to speak out and protest."
So far, around 20 universities, including King's, Imperial, and Goldsmiths in London, Birmingham University, and Liverpool John Moores, have agreed to take part in the week of peaceful action.
Monday 8 February will see banner-making workshops held outside some large London hospitals where students can make protest materials to display back on their campuses around the UK.
"We're trying to get the message across throughout the whole country," the student nurse said.
The following Tuesday and Friday will see social media campaigns, and students intend to find creative ways to lobby politicians on the Thursday.
The strongest statement against cuts to the bursary will be made at 10am on Wednesday 10 February when student nurses, midwives, and AHPs on training placements will join junior doctors on picket lines as the doctors strike over changes to their contract.
"To me, it's really important to bring together the issues being experienced by nurses and doctors because attacks on any profession in the NHS affect us all," the student nurse told us.
"We need to work together or we're going to lose everything".
Students who are unable to take part in the hour-long walkout, such as those on community placements, have been encouraged to wear an armband in solidarity with doctors and fellow students by the Nurses' Bursary Cuts Forum, a large social media community opposing the changes.
"We want to talk to as many students as possible about how the Tories are attacking education and the NHS," a spokesperson for the Student Assembly Against Austerity, which is involved in organising the action, told BuzzFeed News.
It was also announced this week that the maintenance grants currently available for the poorest university students will also be scrapped.
Student nurses who are currently studying will continue to receive their bursaries until the end of their courses, but many have expressed concern that the changes will deter future students and lead to huge shortages in their workforce.
On Wednesday, government documents leaked to Health Service Journal showed that accident and emergency departments are already vastly understaffed "almost half the time".
In the report, which was suspended and left unpublished, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence suggested a minimum nurse-to-patient ratio be introduced to tackle the fact that wards were often as much as 50% short of the number of nurses they needed to cope with demand.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has rejected the call for ratios, and the Department of Health has said that research on safe-staffing is due from regulatory body NHS Improvement later this year, according to The Independent.
"It’s just going to get worse," the student nurse told us. "It will cost too much to train, and there are going to be no nurses left if there’s no students."
She said that she found it "insulting" to have to defend the money used to cover living costs when working placements that involve a 48-hour week.
"It shows a complete lack of respect and understanding for what we do," she said.
"It's so sad. We're heading for a disaster."
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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