Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt is facing a fresh NHS revolt as healthcare students organise to defend their bursaries.
George Osborne announced plans to axe bursaries for student nurses, midwives and others in last month’s Autumn Statement. But they are fighting back with plans for a national demonstration on Saturday 9 January.
Student nurse Danielle in London is one of the organisers.
“On the day the decision was announced I already had people coming up to me,” she told Socialist Worker. “People with children especially said they couldn’t afford to study nursing without a bursary.
“This will put people off from studying nursing.
“I’m from a poorer background and got here because of working hard and the bursary. But nurses’ salaries are already capped at 1 percent—and to have £50,000 of debt of top of that is too much.”
This tears apart the Tory claims that removing the cap on nursing training places and axing bursaries will ease the staffing crisis.
Andy, a student nurse with children, added, “I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it. You have to deal with nursery fees, after school clubs—so you just won’t take on loads of debt to step into a low paid job.”
Hunt said that the NHS couldn’t “duck difficult decisions and have a shortage of nurses in five years”.
But NHS trusts in London and the South East are spending 81 percent more on temporary staff than five years ago. The Tories have also slashed training. In 2014 there were 57,000 people chasing just 20,000 training places.
This crisis was created by the Tories’ privatisation drive.
Hunt claimed the £800 million cut was necessary to relieve “enormous pressure on hospital finances”.
Hospitals are struggling because of “real terms” budget cuts—and many are saddled with private finance initiative (PFI) debts.
Danielle said, “There’s money for a 10 percent pay rise for MPs, wars and bombing people. But what’s more important than the health and wellbeing of society? That should be the first priority.”
The attack is fuelling a widespread anger in the NHS.
Danielle said, “We’re getting leaflets printed to put around in
hospitals and we’re trying to reach out to other NHS students and beyond London.
“The demo is really taking off. We’ve had messages of support from the junior doctors.
“And the Royal College of Nursing, Unite and UCU unions have backed the demo and the Royal College of Midwives said they’re getting back to us.”
Hunt thought he could streamroll ahead with attacks on the NHS after the British Medical Association suspended junior doctors’ strikes last month.
But once again he’s facing resistance from the grassroots.
The student nurses’ fight shows the kind of resistance needed to stop him. It should be a new focus for everyone who wants to defend the NHS.