Jeremy Hunt is facing a Parliamentary vote to stop the scrapping of nurses’ bursaries after the Government’s own research revealed the move is likely to deter ethnic minorities, women and mature students from working in the NHS.
The Health Secretary has been accused by the Royal College of Nursing of being “hell bent” on reducing access to the profession after his department said postgraduate nurses will be forced to pay tuition fees for the first time.
The controversial change, slipped out on the Department of Health and Social care’s website Friday afternoon, came despite widespread criticism of the Tories’ decision to replace undergraduate bursaries for nurses with student loans for fees of up to £9,000 a year.
Labour is now set to force a Commons ambush on the issue after the DHSC’s own ‘Equality Analysis’ of the changes revealed that the huge debts involved in student loans were likely to put off poorer applicants, as well as the older and black and ethnic minority groups on which the NHS relies for recruitment.
The analysis, published on Monday and seen by HuffPost, found that “mature students and those from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds tend to be more debt averse than other students”.
It found that “evidence shows that mature students tend to be more debt averse” and “may choose not to take up the additional loan available and decide to take up additional part-time work or study at an institution closer to home”.
“Based on their over representation and the potentially higher levels of debt aversion amongst mature students, there is a greater risk to the participation and outcomes of mature students on healthcare courses as a result of switching from bursaries to loans.”
The impact could be substantial as 64% of postgraduate healthcare students are over 25, compared with only 185 of students generally.
The equality analysis also adds that “women are more debt averse then men” and warns that women considering dental nurse courses in particular are “therefore more likely to be impacted by the proposed changes”.
And for black and Asian applicants, the warning is just as stark, with the department concluding “the proposed policy change is therefore likely to impact upon a proportionally higher number of ethnic minority students, who will lose their access to non-repayable financial support.”
Moreover, UCAS data shows that in the two year period since the nursing bursary was scrapped, the number of applicants for nursing courses has fallen by …