There was a row in the Commons this week about the consequences of ending bursaries for undergraduates studying to become nurses.
The Government ended the Bursary scheme in 2017, enabling nursing students to take a student loan just as a student studying for any other degree might be expected to. The row was over the fact that in each of the two years since, applications for nursing degrees have fallen sharply (down 13% this year).
I think the anger is largely misplaced. It seemed to me that the real scandal was that so many applicants for nursing were being turned away because there was a shortage of places on courses.
The savings from abolishing the bursary are being used to fund 25% more training places.
So long as the number of well qualified applicants is still sufficient to fill all the places available, including the extra 25%, (and they remain more than sufficient) then the number of nurses will increase, irrespective of the reduction in total number of applicants.
There may also be another benefit: One of the strategic mistakes made by government in the nineteen nineties was to accept the Royal College of Nursing’s agenda for a ‘degree-only’ nursing profession, and to abolish the status of the State Enrolled Nurse. This mistake accentuated the move to ‘high tech’ nursing and denied to the profession nurses whose primary role was just caring for patients rather than curing them. Sometimes anxious and vulnerable patients need not only to be ‘treated’ but to be spent time with, to be fed, or even just to have someone hold their hand.
The introduction of an entry to the profession through an apprenticeship -which is part of the new scheme- may, I hope, go some way to getting the balance right