Government lands NHS students with massive new debts
England is short of 2,600 midwives and has been thousands short for at least a generation. The national midwife shortage has proved a really hard nut to crack. The NHS continues to need every midwife it can get.
Successive governments have tried to drive down that shortage by helping healthcare students through their studies and into work in the NHS. Right now, for example, student midwives can receive a bursary to help them with their living costs.
In recent years, that has worked out on average at between £5,500 and £6,000, according to recent figures. They also get their tuition fees paid. And this is all fair enough because these people, once they qualify, will go on to staff our health service. They will care for us, so we invest in them.
That’s all about to change however, and in a big way. The Chancellor announced in his big Spending Review on 25 November that bursaries will be abolished. Student midwives and others will also be required to pay tuition fees, in full.
Student midwives will have to borrow all this money instead. Put together, it means that newly-qualified midwives will be weighed down by massive debts as they walk through the door of the maternity unit on their first day in practice.
These changes won’t just affect student midwives, but also those studying to become nurses, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, amongst many other healthcare professions. These are the people who will staff our hospitals, surgeries and clinics for decades to come and the Government is treating them with contempt.
These women and men are incredibly dedicated people doing a vital job under intense pressure. Our NHS is dealing with increasing demands that are far outpacing the money set aside by the Government to pay for healthcare. But, instead of investing in improving care and delivering the extra staff we need, the Government has instead just landed them with a massive bill.
Instead of seeing the dedication of these people and wanting to nurture and support them through their studies and into practice, the Government seems to see their commitment as something they can exploit. They see someone desperate to become a midwife and calculate that they can squeeze that person for lots of money. It is a sad and deeply cynical way to behave.
But we don’t have to accept this and we won’t. Trade unions, including the RCM, are supporting healthcare students to fight this outrageous attack. A petition to Parliament has quickly topped 140,000 signatures, and a date – 11 January – has already been set for it to be debated by MPs.
Please sign the petition, if you haven’t already, and share it with colleagues, friends and family. And email your MP, tell them what you think about this plan, and ask them to attend and speak in the debate.
We won’t eliminate the national midwife shortage by driving away potential recruits. We must do everything we can to oppose these changes, which are not just bad news for student midwives, nurses, radiographers and others, but bad news too for the NHS and everyone who depends on it.