The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) has removed the postgraduate bursary for pre-registration nursing programmes in England.
It means postgraduates who want to take the two-year fast-track course into nursing must now accept more student debt.
In a policy paper on its website, the DH announced that from August 2018, postgraduate pre-registration nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals will instead access loans from the Student Loans Company, bringing funding for postgraduate nursing education in line with the changes made to undergraduate nursing programmes last year.
The DH claim that the reforms are designed to provide a more ‘sustainable model for universities while increasing the supply of nurses and midwives to the NHS’.
But chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing Janet Davies has described the move as ‘short-sighted’, claiming the Government appears ‘hell bent’ on reducing the nursing workforce.
She said: ‘At a time when the shortage is so great, another short-sighted announcement cuts off a way of getting more nurses. It goes against everything the Secretary of State has said on the urgent need to boost numbers in training and fill the vacant registered nurse jobs in the NHS.
‘With the help of bursaries, the fast-track programme allows graduates of other subjects to retrain as a nurse and join the NHS in just two years. The Government must expand this route, not restrict it. Graduates with existing student debt will not be falling over themselves to take out more.
‘The Government seems hell-bent on reducing the supply of talent into nursing and this move calls into question its commitment to grow the nursing workforce.’
Professor Ian Norman, executive dean of Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery at King’s College London said: ‘Postgraduate diploma students – those who’ve already got a first degree are particularly excellent students and very well regarded by employers.
‘They are also maybe a bit more mature, they’ve thought through their career choice, they’ve taken a degree, they’ve maybe done work, and then they’re coming back.’
The ‘big danger’ of scrapping the postgraduate bursary is that it will ‘put people off going into nursing if they’ve already got a first loan,’ Professor Norman said.
The news follows the latest sets of figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, which found the biggest ever drop in applications to nursing undergraduate courses following the removal of the bursary. Their figures from the January cycle also showed a similarly high decrease in applicants.