UNISON North West has slammed defeated Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart MP for his part in scrapping the nursing bursary, following a huge slump in applications to nursing courses in Cumbria.
The University of Cumbria has seen a drop in those applying for nursing courses of more than 40% (454) in the two years since the government’s decision to abolish bursaries for students entering NHS professions.
Students beginning courses from 1 August 2017 no longer receive help with living costs and instead have to access the student loan system. Students who began nursing courses before that date received an annual payment to help with study and living costs.
Applications to adult nursing courses have fallen by 44% whilst applications to learning disabilities nursing courses have plunged by as much as 63%.
Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart, Copeland MP Trudy Harrison and Carlisle MP John Stevenson were amongst the Conservatives who voted in Parliament against retaining NHS bursaries in 2016.
UNISON regional organiser David Atkinson said: “The latest figures prove that our fears about the removal of the NHS bursary for nursing courses have been realised.
"Amid mounting concern about health service vacancies, NHS bosses have just unveiled a People Plan which sets the target of recruiting 40,000 new nurses over the next five years.
"Rather than the laughable suggestion of turning to Mumsnet users to solve the recruitment crisis, as was reported earlier this month, the government must urgently reconsider its policy on funding for nursing courses.
“The abolition of bursaries is having a triple impact on Cumbria. There are fewer opportunities for people to train in NHS professions, fears of more job losses at the University and even worse recruitment problems for our hospitals.
“Bursaries removed barriers to working within the NHS but many are now put off by the prospect of taking on massive debts while training.
“It is clear on this evidence the abolition of the bursary has harmed our county. Stewart, Harrison and Stevenson should swallow their pride, put their local constituents first and join the call for comprehensive financial support for healthcare students.”
UNISON continues to campaign for fair funding on behalf of all healthcare students.