Restoring nurses’ & midwives’ bursaries – a matter of life or death for the NHS!

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THERE is a desperate lack of nurses in the NHS. Currently, overloaded nurses are doing the job of three people, working 12-hour shifts in dreadful conditions where they cannot possibly provide patients with the care that they need.

These are the main findings of the House of Commons’ Health Select Committee’s report on the nursing workforce. Official figures show a shortfall of 36,000 nurses in England. The report concluded that nurses were working 60-hour weeks, with too little time to take breaks, and in some cases not enough time to get meals.

During the inquiry, MPs said a number of nurses had reported that they were not even allowed to have a cup of tea on the ward with patients. Others said they did not even have time to have a drink of water when they were thirsty.

Parts of NHS England are only able to fill one in 400 nursing vacancies, figures released by NHS Digital revealed. In Tory PM May’s own constituency of Maidenhead, hospitals are only able to recruit one nurse for every 400!

Hospitals in London are also finding it almost impossible to recruit new nurses. For example, in north west London 2,545 nurse and midwife vacancies were advertised in April, May and June but only 42 new nurses and midwives were recruited.

However, students do feel passionately about wanting to become nurses and midwives. They are prepared to overlook the 12-hour shifts, and the stress and strain of working in an NHS which has suffered year upon year of Tory cuts. However, no matter how caring students are, or how passionate they are about wanting to work in the NHS, the prospect of being £50,000-plus in debt on graduation is driving students away.

Up until this September, students who wanted to become a nurse or a midwife had their studies paid for through the bursary. The nurses’ and midwives’ bursary also covered at least some of the students living expenses, some of their rent and gave them some money to live.

Bursaries have now been completely axed by the Tory government leaving those who wish to become nurses or midwives up to their eyeballs in debt. Since the bursaries were axed, the number of students applying to become nurses or midwives has plummeted by 23%.

Unite head of health Sarah Carpenter demanded: ‘Reintroduce the nurses’ and midwives’ bursaries. Abolishing the bursaries last summer was a big mistake and we now have a situation where student nurses face the prospect of chalking up debts of £50,000 during their three-year course – that’s short-sighted and blinkered thinking by the government.’

Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton said: ‘The foolishness of abolishing the NHS bursary for healthcare students is laid bare in the report. The government needs to reverse this ill-thought-out decision, as well as provide proper funding for nursing apprenticeships, so that young people are encouraged to join the nursing profession.’

However, the Tory government is neither ‘short-sighted’ nor ‘blinkered’, it is not ‘foolish’ and its policy of axing the bursary is not ‘ill-thought-out’. This Tory government knows exactly what it is doing. It is deliberately driving students away from the NHS and deliberately creating a crisis in the NHS. Why is it doing this? It is opening the NHS up for privatisation.

The NHS is being deliberately starved of funds. There is a severe shortage of beds, ventilators, pumps to administer drugs, oxygen cylinders, pressure-relieving mattresses and even pillows.

Maternity, Children’s and A&E departments have been deliberately shut down by this government up and down the country.

NHS workers’ pay has been deliberately frozen for years, or gone up by just 1%, while inflation, and the cost of food, rents, electricity, gas and water are soaring, along with council tax bills. This government has deliberately created a crisis in the NHS, stripping its staff, resources and departments down to the bare bones. It is not a ‘blinkered mistake’ but a planned attack, a war which this government is prosecuting to attempt to smash up the NHS and flog it off to the US commercial health industry.

The trade unions must defend the NHS and resolve its crisis by calling a general strike to bring the May government down and bring in a workers government and socialism.