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NHS Bursary

Volume 609: debated on Tuesday 10 May 2016

1. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of his proposals to reform the NHS bursary on future levels of recruitment into the medical professions. (904937)

7. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of his proposals to reform the NHS bursary on future levels of recruitment into the medical professions. (904943)

10. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of his proposals to reform the NHS bursary on future levels of recruitment into the medical professions. (904946)

The reform to the NHS bursary will lift the cap currently placed on university places for nurses, midwives and allied health professions. Universities will be able to train up to 10,000 extra students by the end of this Parliament. This increase in UK graduates will reduce NHS reliance on expensive agency staff and staff from overseas.

I am certain that the Minister will want to congratulate the SNP on sweeping spectacularly to a historic third successive term, all on a manifesto pledge to protect rather than abolish the nursing bursary in Scotland. The serious question is this: how does the Secretary of State plan to monitor the impact that the removal of the bursary might have on students from poorer backgrounds who are training as nurses in England?

I would like to congratulate my friend the leader of the Scottish Conservative party, who has led the extraordinary resurgence of Conservatism and Unionism north of the border.

I regret very much that the SNP is not endorsing our plan to give opportunity to thousands more people who want to become nurses, especially those from under-privileged backgrounds. We will of course monitor the reform, not only as we continue our process towards making a decision, taking account of all the equalities analysis that will be done in the interim, but after the final decision has been made.

It is recognised that there is a high proportion of mature students of nursing and other health professions. How does the Secretary of State plan to mitigate the effects of the removal of the bursary and provide support to students who have family commitments or who already have a student loan from a previous degree?

The NHS benefits enormously from mature students entering the service, and that is why we have already said that we will be looking at offering second-degree bursaries in the scheme. The consultation is clear: it asks a number of open questions, inviting responses from nurses and nurse trainees about how best to support mature students. We will be looking at those carefully as we formulate our conclusions.

With the increased cost of training as a nurse and a 1% pay freeze throughout this Parliament, how does the Secretary of State plan to recruit and retain sufficient nurses in permanent posts in the short term, so that patient care and staff wellbeing are not negatively affected?

South of the border we have been able over the past six years to increase the number of nurses, both in training and in the service, which has been made possible by the stronger economy and the stewardship of the NHS, in such contrast to the developing picture in Scotland. We are able to expand the numbers in training by up to 10,000 between now and 2020 as a result of that innovative policy, and that is why it should also be adopted in Scotland.

What lessons has the Minister learned from the experience in higher education, where bursaries or grants were removed and replaced with student loans, and we have seen an increased number of students from all backgrounds?

We have indeed, and it is remarkable that south of the border we have seen a university that would equate to the fourth largest in the country filled every year as a result of the reforms to higher education funding, and a university the size of the University of Leicester filled with those who would not previously have gone to university as a result of the reforms that we introduced in 2011. I want to see those benefits extended across the range including to those who have not so far had them—namely, student nurses.

Considering the importance and the central role of nurses in the medical profession and in helping people when they are ill, how long does the Minister expect it will take on average for a nurse working in the NHS to pay back the total debt that would be accrued under the Government’s proposed replacement for the bursary scheme?

It depends of course on the career progression of that particular nurse, but the repayment terms will be precisely those for students of other degrees. Newly qualified nurses will not pay any more than they do currently, and the exact rates at which they will pay back—9% above £21,000—are outlined carefully in the consultation document. I recommend that the hon. Lady looks at it and sees the benefits that will come from the reform that, were it to be adopted in Scotland, would provide an enormous benefit to the service north of the border.

I start by congratulating the Secretary of State on becoming the longest serving Health Secretary in history. It is an important-landmark, not least because it is the first target that he has managed to hit.

On NHS bursaries, last week the Minister said that

“more mature students are applying now than in 2010.”—[Official Report, 4 May 2016; Vol. 609, c. 197.]

However, a written answer given to me yesterday by the Minister for Universities and Science appears to contradict this. Indeed, it shows that numbers of mature students have fallen in the past five years by almost 200,000. Given that the average age of a student nurse is 28, and in the light of the clear evidence from his own Government, will the Minister correct the record and commit to looking again at the impact of these proposals on mature students, who form a significant part of the student nurse intake?

I, too, as I know will all my ministerial colleagues, congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on a remarkable tenure in his post.

It is clear that mature student numbers dropped immediately after the higher education reforms, but they then started rising and have now exceeded the rate before the reforms. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman the details of that. We are also clear that we need to nurture mature students, which is why the consultation asked the specific question that it did. We want to invite answers from the service about how best we can do that because we are clear that the current system is not working as well as it should.