Around 5,000 student nurses, midwives and other health students marched through central London today, Saturday. Chants of, “Doctors and nurses, unite and fight” and, “Jeremy Hunt has got to go” rang out.
Demonstrators are fighting Tory plans to axe bursaries for student nurses, midwives, occupational therapists and others.
Lizzie and Oliver came from Exeter. “There’s no way I could afford to do nursing without the bursary,” said Lizzie. “I’ve got two kids and can’t give up everything.”
Oliver added, “After three years you’d come out with £51,000 in debt and have to start paying it back on a salary of £21,000,” he said.
“That’s just crazy.”
Many people hoping to join the NHS are mature students such as Emily, a student midwife from London.
“I’m 34 years old with a young child,” she explained. “It’s a privilege to be a midwife, but it is also exhausting.
“You’re working for essentially nothing – after I’ve paid for childcare there’s basically nothing left.”
Sami, a student mental health nurse, added, “I’ve had to take a bar job because I can’t afford not to work.
“My bursary doesn’t even cover my rent – as soon as it comes in it’s gone.”
Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt claims that scrapping bursaries will fund 10,000 training places. But the NHS is in the grip of a staffing crisis because of budget cuts and privatisation.
Poverty pay and rocketing workloads are pushing health workers out of the NHS. Bursary cuts will make this worse.
Louise from Surrey said, “I wouldn’t be a nurse today if it weren’t for the bursary.” Oliver added, “The changes would definitely mean only some people could do it.”
The Tories want to smash workers’ pay, terms and conditions and union organisation to soften the NHS up for privatisation.
Louise said, “It’s not even back door privatisation anymore – it’s front door privatisation.”
But this also deepens the political crisis facing Hunt and means there’s a possibility for a united fight to defend the NHS.
Junior doctors in the British Medical Association (BMA) are set to walk out for 24 hours on Tuesday.
They’re fighting Hunt’s plans to impose new contracts that would rip up terms and conditions and put patient safety at risk.
Amy, a junior doctor, joined the demo. “I’m here because this is an attack on everyone,” she said. “The whole thing is an attack on the NHS.”
The demo assembled at St Thomas’ Hospital in south London then marched to Downing Street.
Labour’s shadow health secretary HeIdi Alexander read out a text from Jeremy Corbyn pledging his support. She said, “The Labour Party is on your side.”
Danielle, one of the organisers, told the rally, “They’re dismantling the NHS piece by piece – we all need to unite.”
Other speakers included Unite leader Len McCluskey, Royal College of Nursing head Janet Davies, Gail Adams from the Unison union and Green Party London mayoral candidate Sian Berry.
Jenny Leow, an occupational therapy student, called on students to support the junior doctors. “It’s fantastic that the junior doctors are out – they could stop the Tories in their tracks,” she said.
“We need to escalate our campaign. When the junior doctors have a full strike on 10 February we should walk out for half a day.”
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