A survey has found that the public wants the Government to continue paying for the training of student nurses and midwives, and not force NHS trainees to fund their degrees with loans.
About 77% of voters who took part in the YouGov survey for the union believe the government must carry on paying the tuition fees of student nurses and others studying to become NHS health professionals.
Furthermore, 72% of survey respondents who voted Conservative in last year’s general election are of the same opinion.
Some 72% of survey respondents also want the Government to continue funding the NHS bursary for nursing, midwifery and other health students, giving financial help towards living costs.
The controversial proposals apply to anyone enrolling on a nursing degree from next September.
Students will also have to take out a loan to cover the cost of their tuition fees.
UNISON has calculated that students graduating in 2020 could be saddled with debts of around £51,600, yet will be starting out in the workplace on a salary of under £23,000.
Survey respondents were also asked if they thought student nurses should be paid for the time they spend working in hospitals on their practical placements alongside qualified staff.
Seventy one per cent, including more than two-thirds (67%) of those who’d voted Conservative a year ago, thought they should.
A third of these respondents felt they should also be paid the Government’s national living wage, which is currently £7.20 an hour for anyone over the age of 25.
Furthermore, a quarter of those who felt student nurses should be paid believed they should receive the Living Wage Foundation’s living wage of £8.25 an hour, or £9.40 in London.
Three in 10 thought student nurses should be paid more than this living wage but less than their newly qualified nursing colleagues.
UNISON commissioned the polling as part of its submission to the government’s consultation into plans to scrap the nursing bursary.
Christina McAnea, head of health at UNISON, said: “There’s already a desperate shortage of nurses. Scrapping the bursary next year will simply add to the huge pressures on an already overwhelmed NHS. This poll clearly shows that the public thinks the government should meet the cost of student nurses’ training.
“Nursing trainees tend to be older, and may have debt from a first degree. They’re also more likely to have families, and to be anxious at the thought of going further into the red, taking on loans they will probably never pay off.
“Many students already have second jobs – and even more will have to work extra hours if the government persists with these unpopular plans. This risks both their studies and their health. Others – especially those whose parents cannot afford to subsidise them – will be priced out of a career in nursing.
“If there are fewer students coming out of university, hospitals will have to up their spending on agency staff and overseas recruitment, which may prove impossible in post-Brexit Britain.
“These plans are ill-conceived and will deter nursing recruits, not attract them. We’re calling on ministers to pause the plans and think again.”