Plans to scrap the bursary funding for students on nursing, midwifery and other health degrees will ultimately cost the government more, according to analysis from London Economics.
The data suggests that approximately 2,000 fewer people will study for a career in the NHS every year if these plans go ahead.
With such a drop in the number of qualified new recruits for the NHS from 2020, trusts will spend more on agency staff or overseas recruitment to make up the shortfall.
The report expects this spend to amount to £100.3m per student intake.
The changes, which are due to be introduced in September 2017, could also cost universities between £57 million and £77 million per admissions cycle, and see them close down their health care degrees, as students becomes deterred by increased student debt.
After 2017, nursing and health degree students will be forced to pay back £49,000 of student debt when they graduate compared with just under £7,000 with the current bursaries.
As nursing and other health students tend to be older and earn less after graduation, the amount they will be able to pay back is likely to be less than other graduates, says the report.
This means the apparent budget saving of £534 million per student intake will reduce to around £88 million, as only a small number of students will earn enough during their working lives to pay off their entire debt.
The report, commissioned by UNISON and the National Union of Students (NUS) coincided with a Save NHS Nursing Bursary lobby in Westminster yesterday.
Christina McAnea, UNISON’s head of health, said: “The government claims there are huge savings to be made from scrapping the bursary, but this analysis suggests the reverse is true.”
She added: “The NHS already has too few nurses, scrapping the bursary will make an already difficult situation much worse. With too few staff on the wards, the impact on patient safety could well be disastrous.
“Fewer students coming out of university will mean trusts have no option but to go even further into the red as they have to up their spending on agency staff and overseas recruitment.
“But it’s not too late for ministers to admit they were wrong, and start looking at other ways of encouraging people to consider careers in health. The government needs to rethink these ill-conceived plans.”
Megan Dunn, the NUS national president, said: “The government is gambling with the future of the NHS and repeatedly ignoring the voices of those who will be hit hardest by these changes.”
She added: “Driving students further into such enormous debt will have a damaging impact on individual students, the wider intake and the universities that run these courses. Ultimately this proposal will limit access, rather than widen it.”