Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to keep bursaries available for nursing and midwifery students in Scotland.
The First Minister of Scotland told delegates at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Congress in Glasgow that Westminster’s decision to remove nursing student bursaries is “shamefully short-sighted”.
She said: “Reducing support for nursing students today will mean that there is simply not enough highly-qualified support for patients tomorrow.
“It is a mistake, it is wrong-headed and I hope that the UK Government changes its mind.”
However, the former health minister for Scotland said Scotland is “totally committed to strongly supporting our nursing and midwifery students”.
She said: “Unlike the UK Government, we recognise the role and contribution of student nurses and the demands that you face.
“We know that nursing students can be older, or have children or specific needs, and their university education can place different demands on them.
“I want to confirm to you today, and this is a guarantee, here is Scotland we will retain free tuition and we will retain the bursary.”
Sturgeon also announced a “discretionary fund” of at least £1 million for nursing and midwifery students who face “particular hardship” to help them continue studying.
She added: “We are continuing to work with the RCN, and other nurse representatives, to listen to students about what’s important to them to inform how we can further improve nursing and midwifery student support in the future.”
In her keynote speech to delegates, which culminated in a standing ovation, Sturgeon also committed to legislating safe staffing in Scotland.
“I know the pressure nurses work under,” she said, “because of the rising demand for the services you provide.
“That’s why we know and continue to stress the importance of safe staffing levels for staff and for patients,” she said.
Sturgeon highlighted the collaboration between the Scottish government and the RCN in developing a suite of workplace planning tools that uses evidence instead of ratios to determine safe staffing levels based on patients clinical needs.
“To build on that progress,” said Sturgeon, “we’ve decided in Scotland that we’re going to enshrine these planning tools in law. They’re going to be placed in statute”.
Theresa Fyffe, RCN Scotland director, said: “The First Minister’s commitment to putting these tools on a statutory footing should help to ensure that there are the right number of healthcare professionals with the right skills working in Scotland’s NHS.
“As ever, however, the devil will be in the detail and we look forward to working with the Scottish Government over the coming months as their proposals become clearer.
“The tools do not currently address skill mix, that is, the ratio of registered nurses to support workers in clinical areas. This is crucial, as there is overwhelming evidence that having the right skill mix impacts patient care.
She added: “But our overwhelming message to Government is that, without proper funding to make sure that health boards have enough money to employ enough staff to ensure safe staffing, these proposals will be a paper exercise only.”