Health unions are calling on health secretary Matt Hancock to recognise the ‘selfless service’ of healthcare students by scrapping their tuition fees.
Mr Hancock should reimburse fees already paid and forgive current debt for all nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare students, a letter written today by the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, Unison and the National Union of Students stated.
The letter to Mr Hancock (published in full below) asked him to ‘acknowledge the students’ selfless service’ during the coronavirus outbreak ‘not only with words, but in a tangible and quantifiable way’ by abolishing tuition fees for nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare students starting in 2020/21.
The letter stated: ‘Our opposition to the introduction of tuition fees for nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare students in England is well-documented and our concerns, in terms of the exacerbation of nursing shortfalls and financial hardship, have been borne out.
‘However, the current crisis – and the impact on those students, whether joining the workforce or continuing with their education – has placed the unfairness of this policy into even starker focus,’ it added.
Applications for undergraduate nursing courses dropped 31% in two years from 2016 – the last year students received the bursary, which covered tuition fees and helped with living costs in England.
Though the Government has announced a £5,000 maintenance grant from September 2020, it refused calls from health unions to once again abolish tuition fees for healthcare students.
RCM chief executive Gill Walton said the ‘invaluable contribution’ healthcare students make during and after training has ‘never been more apparent than during this current crisis’.
She continued: ‘The policy of tuition fees for those in studying for healthcare degrees is, and always has been, a flawed one, as it does not take into account the considerable time spent on clinical placements. Now is the time to put right this wrong.’
RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said: ‘Many student nurses have elected to become an invaluable part of the workforce at a time when the country needs them most, but they are still paying tuition fees, and this is simply not right.
‘Now is the time for the government to recognise the ongoing contribution of student nurses by dropping the debt, abolishing tuition fees and building a workforce fit for the present, and the future.’
In March, students were asked that trainee nurses in the final six months of their programme can complete the remainder of their course as a paid placement to help tackle Covid-19.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council has also said second-year and final-year students not in their last six months can choose to spend 80% of their hours in a paid clinical placement.
Nearly 19,500 third-year student nurses and midwives have asked to take up paid placements on the NHS frontline, figures up to 17 April show.