BRIDGET PHILLIPSON: A huge gamble with the future of the NHS

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The creation of the National Health Service is my party’s proudest achievement. It was founded on the principle that healthcare should be available to everyone free at the point of need and not based on your ability to pay.

We also have a duty of care to those who do so much to care for us and who work tirelessly to serve the public often in difficult circumstances. But this government seems determined to make life harder for NHS staff, and for patients too.

Student nurses, midwives, physiotherapists, radiographers and many others are voicing their concerns about government plans to scrap the NHS student bursary.

Last year, George Osborne announced that the bursary would be replaced by loans. Not only that, but they will now also face tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year and will be left with debts of least £51,600 by the time they’ve finished their training.

This is a huge gamble with the future of the NHS workforce. We are already facing a nursing shortage thanks to the government’s short-sighted decision back in 2010 to cut the number of nurse training places which led to 8,000 fewer nurses being trained. Many hospitals are being forced to rely on overseas or agency staff.

Plans to scrap the NHS bursary risk making staff shortages even worse.

Student nurses are not like other students. They are required to spend a significant amount of their course working with patients, including at night and weekends.

There aren’t enough hours in the day to take on a part-time job to help with costs. We also know that student nurses are far more likely to be mature students – that often means children and families to support.

We should be encouraging people to re-train and bring their valuable experience into nursing rather than making it harder to do so. The changes will effectively charge students for working in the NHS and keeping our hospital wards up and running.

The government’s plans won’t solve the nursing crisis that ministers themselves created. Rather, many promising students will be priced out of a career.

But they won’t be the only losers – patients will suffer and our NHS will be poorer. There’s still time for the Chancellor to think again and protect the vital services on which we all rely.