Callum Thomas reports on today's demonstration by student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals against the governments proposed scrapping of NHS bursaries
Today marked a triumphant victory for NHS staff and students, who marched in solidarity through the streets of Westminster in protest against the government plans to cut nurse and midwife bursaries.
The controversial proposal, pushed by the Conservative government and due for parliamentary debate Jan 11th, would see funding for student nurses axed and conceivably pave the way for NHS funded courses to be treated as other degrees, which can now cost in excess of £9,000 per year.
The march, organised by King’s College London Nursing and Midwifery Society, was host to not only midwives and nurses, but also doctors, junior doctors and various other NHS staff. Swathes of organisations gathered to show solidarity against the creeping privatisation of our NHS, including the Royal College of Nursing, the NHA (National Health Action Party), The Peoples Assembly Against Austerity and various trade union bodies including Unison.
Under current the current government scheme nurses and midwives currently receive a means-tested bursary of up to £5,460, while other students are granted a loan of up to £7,750. The Council of Deans of Health, a representative voice of the UK university health faculties, have shown their support for deconstructing the system of free education by submitting such plans to the government spending review. The organisation believe that by pulling funding for the courses there would be a larger volume of course spaces and subsequently trained staff who would be readily available to work. Their revelation comes after it has been reported that 1 in 3 applicants for such courses are refused because of underfunding. It begs the question why not simply increase funding?
I spoke with Arthur Shaw of the Bromley Trade Union Council who explained his frustration at the idea of cutting funds in the name of economic growth. He told me “ There is nobody to vote for. "I feel betrayed by the government and they should fund the NHS and it's students to whatever extent it requires.” He also spoke of his concern that the changes may lead to an “unfair advantage for those who are better off”.
The last 10 years has seen the NHS suffer increasing privatisation, cuts, pay freezes and atrocious new contracts for its workers. Defending the cutting of funding for the nurses and midwives of our health system is the beginning of a long battle to keep our NHS in the public domain. It is also part a wider struggle to oppose the immoral obscenity of cutting funding for cherished, and frankly, widely undervalued parts of our society such as nursing. It is the principle, not the detail, which should be taken into account in this instance. George Osborne’s scissors must surely need sharpening by now? Thankfully, he’s almost certainly far too short-sighted to realise the need.
Junior doctors voted have announced their strike, backed overwhelmingly by 98% of BMA members, will go ahead on January 12th.
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