Students fight against NHS bursary cuts

Photos taken at the march against cuts to the bursaries for trainee nurses and midwives on Saturday 9th January 2016. Photographer: Garry Knight

Cardiff Students have taken their fight against cuts to NHS bursary funding to the next level, after attending protests and a government debate in London.

On January 9th protests were held across the UK as students voiced their anger against a government decision to scrap the NHS bursaries awarded to healthcare students.

Five members of Cardiff Students’ Union attended a 5,000 strong protest in London amongst other members of the University.

According to Students’ Union President and former VP Heath Park Claire Blakeway, the march was “really well attended”, and “fantastic to see so many people passionate about saving the NHS bursary”.

Talking to Gair Rhydd, Student Senator and nursing student Tim Nagle also described his experience at the Chair of Petitions committee, as he attended with 40 other people including fellow students, nurses and Trade Union officials.

During the initial discussion, Nagle alongside fellow attendees was asked questions about the help provided by the current bursary and details about his course.

Despite the high turn out of politicians however, it was noted that no Welsh MPs attended the debate. Although MP for Cardiff Central Jo Stevens has signed an early day motion to oppose the cuts, the MP for Cardiff North, including the Heath campus and University Hospital Wales, has yet to sign the appeal.

Blakeway has since stated that she will continue to lobby and meet with both MPs to discuss the issue.

According to Nagle, the protest against cuts to NHS bursaries was essential for giving students, NUS Wales and trade union the opportunity to think about future plans for Welsh healthcare funding.

The senator stated that during the debate attendees generally agreed that the current NHS situation is “unsustainable” but expressed anger at the government’s unwillingness to discuss other alternatives to improve the situation.

Instead it was the students and representatives who voiced potential ideas to change the current system that now need to be taken into consideration, such as paying students the living wage instead of allocating a bursary.

Under the current system, student nurses and midwives do not pay tuition fees and receive a bursary from the NHS. If such funding is cut, UNISON has predicted that nurses could be left with debts of up to £50,000.

The Royal College of Nursing has also warned that the move may deter people from applying for such courses in future.

The government has defended the proposed cuts to funding by suggesting that it will create 25,000 additional places to students with nurses receiving 25% more financial support. It has also been suggested that this will save £800 million a year.

However, the cuts have been labelled as particularly detrimental to health care students given the long hours of their course, making it impossible to hold a part-time job alongside their degree. It has also been noted that as many healthcare students enter the course as ‘mature students’, individuals often have other financial commitments and responsibilities.

During the debate a number of questions were allegedly left unanswered by politicians including the results of an impact assessment analysing the cuts and any potential effects on devolved nations.

The event followed after a petition against the cuts received the required 100,000 signatures within the 24 hours after the spending review was released.

Cardiff Students’ Union have also created their own open letter that has been signed by hundreds of healthcare students. The letter will then be sent to relevant government ministers in both the UK and Welsh government.

Last semester the Student Senate also agreed to oppose the cuts to NHS bursaries. As a result the Students’ Union will now work with NUS Wales to campaign on the issue.