Nurses and Midwives Education (February 2023)

Published on 1 February 2023 at 21:27

Grants and bursaries were vital tools in encouraging students to train to become the future nurses and midwives that our NHS needs

Along with thousands of other NHS nurses my training to be a nurse and midwife in the 1980s was hospital-based and for me it was at Bristol Royal Infirmary. In those days you were paid a monthly wage and offered cheap subsidised accommodation as well.

After a variety of changes to the nurse training curriculum over the following decades by 2013 the government announced that all registered nurses were to be graduates to ‘deliver high quality health care in the transformed NHS’ (announced by Health Minister Ann Keen in 2009).


In 2015 George Osborne the then Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that grants for student midwives and nurses would be scrapped and replaced by loans (1). Osborne said that this would save around £800 million a year in government spending. Student nurses and midwives would have their tuition fees grants axed and replaced by loans and they would stop receiving bursaries.

These grants and bursaries were vital tools in encouraging students to train to become the future nurses and midwives that our NHS needs.

The Royal College of Nursing (who are now leading a pay-starved profession in the first national nurses strike) said the move would place the NHS in a ‘precarious position’. The then RCN General Secretary, Janet Davies, said the scrapping of bursaries could deter potential students from taking up nursing.

Following a year on year drop in the number of student nurse applicants from 2016 onwards, the Tories rolled back on their austerity changes and reintroduced a £5000 per year maintenance grant (with another £3000 for those working in shortage areas such as mental health) but students would still have to take out a loan for tuition fees and who can possibly live on £5000 per year during a cost of living crisis? So yet more loans and debt. Prior to 2016 the bursary was worth up to £16,454 per annum and the government covered tuition fees.

Now cynics amongst us may wonder if the loading up of debt on student nurses and midwives happening side by side the ceaseless outsourcing of NHS services might all be connected? A government which has a limited commitment to an NHS free at the point of use, with a troubling attitude to private healthcare and with an inadequate workforce plan, may not see an immediate need to recruit and retain nurses. We currently have an estimated vacancy rate of over 47,000 nurses and midwives (2).

The two groups of would-be nurses and midwives hardest hit by these changes are mature students and students who are already graduates. These two groups are vital – mature students with rich life experience and in many cases actual frontline nursing experience as Health Care Assistants and postgraduate students bringing with them experience in other fields. Both are unwilling and unable to get into huge (often double) debt. It is estimated that student nurses will leave university with a debt approaching £45,800.

It is estimated that student nurses will leave university with a debt approaching £45,800. Figures have just been released which show that the number of applications to study nursing for the coming academic year have fallen by 20% (3). The nursing and midwifery drop out rate is one in three (4) with the most cited reason debt and finances (5). 

With the scandalous shortage of nurses and midwives who will give NHS patients the expert care they deserve? This government and the next government (whatever party is in power) must fix this unfair and dangerous system now and nurse and midwife education must be made free again with bursaries that people can actually live on. 

This is the only way we can protect our NHS.

Jackie Haskins (on behalf of Protect Our NHS)



  1. Autumn Statement and Comprehensive Spending Review George Osborne 2015
  2. NHS Vacancy Statistics as reported by the Health Foundation September 2022
  3. UCAS 09/02/2023
  4. Nursing Standard 08/2021
  5. The Health Foundation 09/2019

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