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NHS Bursaries: Student Nurses

Volume 612: debated on Tuesday 5 July 2016

12. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the proposed removal of NHS bursaries on the number of applications from mature students for nurse training places. (905664)

Mature students represent a significant proportion of the nursing, midwifery and allied health professions’ workforce. Looking at what happened following the introduction of the maximum £9,000 per annum tuition fees in 2012, the latest UCAS data for last year show that full-time mature student numbers have now significantly exceeded previous levels.

I am proud to have served on the front line of our national health service for the last 10 years, and to ask my first question on its 68th birthday.

St George’s hospital in my constituency is operating at a significant deficit, partly owing to expensive agency staff costs. Does the Minister agree that cutting NHS bursaries for nurses, midwives, radiographers and other allied health professionals will prevent the recruitment and retention of high-quality trained staff and make the problem worse?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her seat. She fought a courageous campaign, and it is good to see her in the Chamber. She brings expertise to the House, which is also very welcome.

I agree with the first part of the hon. Lady’s question—the deficit at her local hospital is indeed partly caused by the excessive costs of agency nurses, and we are trying to put a cap on those costs—but I am afraid I disagree with the second part. I believe that changes in nurse bursaries will enable us to get more nurses and healthcare professionals into the NHS. There has been a similar development in the rest of the higher education sector, and I want to replicate that success in the NHS so that we can provide it with the workers that it requires.

I, too, am delighted to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) to her seat. Her recent experience on the front line of the NHS will be of great value, and we in the Labour party pride ourselves on listening to NHS staff. Let me also put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) for the excellent job that she did as shadow Secretary of State.

I must challenge the Minister again about the impact of this policy on mature students. According to an answer given to me by his colleague the Minister for Universities and Science, in 2010-11 there were 740,000 enrolments in higher education among people aged 21 or over. Let me ask a simple question: in 2014-15, after tuition fees trebled, was the number of enrolments among mature students higher or lower?

I echo the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander). She gave the House admirable assistance in challenging the Government, and I regret her loss from the Opposition Front Bench.

The latest figure from UCAS, for 2015, shows that the number of mature student applications has risen since the introduction of £9,000 tuition fees, but the hon. Gentleman is right to identify that factor as a challenge in relation to our new plans. That is why we asked open questions during the consultation, and I hope that, now that it has closed, we shall be able to respond to those questions to ensure that we can give the best possible assistance to mature students who want to become nurses.

According to the universities Minister, the number of mature students enrolling in universities has fallen by 22%. If that were repeated in the health sector, what is already a staffing crisis would become a catastrophe. The Minister has said that an extra 10,000 training places will be created during the current Parliament, but everything I have heard from the Government suggests that that figure was plucked out of thin air. What is the baseline figure for the Minister’s claim—10,000 more places compared to when?

There will be 10,000 additional places over the five years from when the policy was announced last year, and that will give NHS organisations throughout the country the assistance that will enable them to bring down their agency costs. It is only through such bold initiatives that we can reform the NHS for the betterment of patient care throughout the country.