RCN demanding £1bn investment in student funding!

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Student nurses marching in 2016 demanding the retention of NHS nursing bursaries
Student nurses marching in 2016 demanding the retention of NHS nursing bursaries

‘LARGE-SCALE action’ is required, leading NHS trade unions are warning this week, as official NHS figures have exposed the fact that workers today face ‘an even greater risk’ of ill health.

The warnings are being broadcast by both the doctors’ union, the BMA, and nurses’ union RCN, with the RCN calling for a total of £1bn to be ‘invested urgently’ in student funding and training of the ‘many more nurses’ desperately needed And a spokesperson on behalf of the BMA, responding to new statistics from NHS Digital on alcohol damage in England exposing an increase in alcohol-related hospital admissions and alcohol-specific deaths, stressed: ‘The latest statistics are alarming and show that – rather than making progress – the public are at an even greater risk.

‘With a three per cent increase in alcohol-related hospital admissions in the last year – representing over seven per cent of all hospital admissions – and the number of alcohol-specific deaths increasing by six per cent since 2016, it is clear that large-scale action is required immediately.

‘While the government has announced the expansion of alcohol care teams as part of the NHS Long-Term Plan, these figures highlight the enormous scale of the problem and prompt concerns that what the government has proposed is not anywhere near what is actually required.

‘We need to see a strong and comprehensive new alcohol strategy that prioritises prevention and factors in the wider societal influences that may impact a person’s alcohol consumption. ‘The BMA will continue to push for the government to commit to a comprehensive and effective range of population-wide measures, such as a minimum unit pricing for alcohol, mandatory labeling and limits on alcohol advertising, as the current approach is failing to protect the health of the public.’

And at just the same time, nurses’ union the RCN is warning that: ‘A minor increase in nursing degree applications in England still leaves courses 13,000 down on three years ago. ‘The RCN calls for at least £1bn to be invested in student funding in England per year to secure the NHS Long Term Plan.’

It stresses: ‘The Long Term Plan will not have a chance to succeed if the decline in student nurse applications is not reversed … ‘And as today’s UCAS figures reveal, applications are 30 per cent lower than in 2016, the final year of the student bursary. Figures released today show the number of nursing student applications in England have fallen from 43,800 in 2016, the last year students received the bursary, to 30,650 this year, despite a small 4.2 per cent rise on last year from 29,390 to 30,650.

‘Even accounting for the minor increase, this still represents more than 13,000 fewer applications compared to 2016. ‘With England’s health and care services already struggling to cope in the face of 40,000 nursing vacancies, the RCN has warned the fall in student numbers further jeopardises the future supply of nurses, and puts safe patient care at risk.

‘The number of mature nursing student applications from over 25s in England has seen an even greater decline, dropping 41 per cent from 18,630 to 11,000 since the bursary was removed. ‘This will mean the specialist areas worst hit by the wider staffing crisis, such as learning disability and mental health nursing, will continue to struggle to recruit the nurses they need.

‘Both these areas rely on students with significant life experience – with fewer mature students applying, today’s figures mean staffing levels could fall further. ‘The lower student numbers also mean the government will struggle to fill the 50 per cent increase in clinical placements it announced as part of the Long Term Plan. ‘Last year the RCN launched the #FundOurFuture campaign, which calls on the government to see at least £1bn a year invested in nurse education per year in order to arrest the decline in student nurse numbers, and ultimately recruit the nurses needed to keep patients safe.

‘The RCN has presented costed proposals to the government such as a maintenance grant for all nursing students, or a combination of grants and forgivable loans, as well as practical support for tuition fees. ‘To secure delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan, the RCN is calling for the government to allocate the money as part of the Spending Review in Spring.

‘Across the rest of the UK, there has been a five per cent increase since last year.’ Dame Professor Donna Kinnair, Acting Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, is also warning: ‘These figures show the scale of the workforce challenge ahead of us, and failure to act now risks patient care for a generation.

‘The Long Term Plan deserves to succeed, but it cannot do so without the nurses to deliver it. With applicant numbers showing no sign of recovering since the removal of student funding, health care services will ultimately have even fewer nurses to treat us in our hospitals, homes, schools and clinics. ‘Between now and the Spending Review is the government’s opportunity to deliver the care people need – Ministers must invest at least £1bn in nurse education to arrest the decline in applications.

‘Today’s figures show we all need to work together to address the workforce crisis, not only through investment in nurse education in England. We need a workforce strategy that reflects the demands of the population in each country, underpinned by legislation that guarantees the right number of nurses and nursing support staff to provide safe and effective care.’

Nursing applicants by age, England

2016 – 25,160 (under 25), 18,630 (25 and over).

2018 – 18,640 (under 25), 10,740 (25 and over)

2019 – 19,650 (under 25, 5% change since 2018/ -22% change since 2016), 11,000 (25 and over, 2% change since 2018/ -41% change since 2016)

  • At the same time the national executive committee of the PCS civil servants union has unanimously decided to hold a ballot of over 120,000 members working in government departments for strike action over their pay. The ballot will open on 18 March and close on 29 April.

The PCS is demanding a fully funded pay rise significantly above the rate of inflation, and national pay bargaining across the civil service and related areas. ‘PCS will ballot over 120,000 members working in key government departments for strike action over pay, its statement says.

It stresses: ‘Workers from the UK civil service will be balloted for strike action as well as disruptive action short of a strike, which would take place in May. ‘If the strike goes ahead it will be the biggest walkout by the civil service since the coordinated pensions’ strike of 2011.’

General Secretary Mark Serwotka emphasised: ‘Never has it been more necessary to have a well-paid and well-funded civil service than at a time of great uncertainty over Brexit. ‘Yet what we have seen is a monumental betrayal of hard working staff in civil service departments over pay.

‘Our members were led to believe that the pay cap had been lifted last year.

‘Instead civil servants were singled out for unfair treatment and a de-facto pay cap remained in place. ‘PCS members have had enough and after years of real terms wage cuts, will now be balloted with the aim of launching targeted and sustained strike action which will have a significant effect on key government departments.’

Serwotka went on to say that average civil service pay has fallen in value by a full ten per cent over the last nine years. ‘Ministers need to understand the very real anger that our members feel, and seek to immediately reward their staff with a pay rise significantly above the rate of inflation,’ he stressed.