We are short of nurses in London, desperately short. This is why it beggars belief that the government are so intent on axing nursing bursaries, a move that will undoubtedly deter many more from entering this most important profession.
The Royal College of Nursing’s recent FOI request to London’s Hospital Trusts uncovered 10,140 nursing vacancies across the capital. That leaves an average vacancy rate of 17%.
Some, like London North West Hospital Trust and the South West London Mental Health Trust, are running vacancy rates as high as 30%.Scrapping the nurse bursary will undoubtedly deter many mature students from entering nursing.
With London’s NHS facing unprecedented challenges in terms of resource and capacity, just imagine for a moment how different our local health services would be if we could have those 10,000 missing nurses at work.
It is truly shocking that in the face of falling recruitment the Government has chosen to remove the support with allows many students to enter the nursing profession by scrapping the Nurse bursaries.
Student nurses are not the same as other students. They work on wards and in practices during their studies. They acquire experience and learn their trade on the job. They work the long hours of other health workers; they handle the difficult tasks involved in caring for and treating some of our most vulnerable friends and relatives.
These demands, particularly the restraints on their time, frequently prevent them from being employed in the jobs which many other students take up in order to make ends meet. Nursing bursaries form a vital lifeline for those wanting to contribute their time and skills to caring for the sick. Without this lifeline we’ll most likely see an exacerbation of the nursing shortage, particularly amongst those from poorer backgrounds.
Nursing attracts a disproportionate number of mature students. Many of those are pursuing a career change and already have student debt, whilst others have dependent family members to provide for too. Scrapping the nurse bursary will undoubtedly deter many mature students from entering nursing. With mature students bringing with them real life and work experiences to help with the care and treatment of patients, it will sadly be the latter that suffer when these people chose not to retrain in the profession.
These problems affect the nation as a whole – but the problem is more acute in London. The cost of living and studying in London is rising. In a survey of nurses conducted by the Royal College of Nursing last year six in ten nurses are expected to leave the capital by 2021 because of the rising housing costs.
Placing more debt on potential nurses by scrapping the bursary will only further drive them out of London to regions in the country where the living is cheaper or drive them away from the profession entirely.
We should be doing everything in our power to encourage people to become nurses and to stay in London. Unison and NUS research into the impact of ditching NHS bursaries estimates a drop in candidates of between 6-7%. Any money saved in scrapping these meagre bursaries will be completely lost in paying for agency staff to cover the staffing gaps.
Morale amongst healthcare workers is low and it is time the government took note. Patients are left to suffer a poorer service because of the untenable conditions government are imposing on NHS staff.
We need to stop these changes and we need to establish a living settlement which will remove those barriers currently deterring increasing numbers from opting for a career in nursing.
Dr Onkar Sahota is the London Assembly Member for Ealing and Hillingdon, a practicing GP in West London and he is Chair of the London Assembly Health Committee.