Healthcare organisations are to consult further on NHS bursary after government delays

Authors: Helen Jaques 

Publication date:  06 Apr 2011


Leading healthcare organisations are to consult on options for the NHS bursary, which provides funding for students on pre-registration healthcare courses, after the government announced that it would not be seeking views on its proposed changes to the scheme further to its original consultation two years ago.

When the Department of Health met unions in March it outlined proposals for reform that in some cases differed from those put forward in its 2009 consultation and stated that it would not seek views on these revised options.

In response the BMA, the trade union Unison, the Royal College of Nursing, and other professional organisations have launched a joint consultation that will take into account these new proposals and changes in the financial climate since 2009.

The informal consultation will focus on two options for NHS student support: a combination of a means tested bursary, a non-means tested bursary of £1000, and a loan; and a new option of a means tested bursary and a non-means tested bursary, with no loan.

“Following four years of negotiation, discussion, and consultation, we are deeply frustrated at this unexpected turn of events,” said Gail Adams, head of nursing at Unison and spokeswoman for the organisations taking part. “We have waited since 2009 for an announcement that we expected would improve the financial situation of healthcare students, but instead of an announcement on the bursary we are presented with revised options. It is important that our members are consulted on these revised options, as they differ from the ones originally put to students.”

The health department has confirmed that trade union members present at the meeting of the NHS Student Support Advisory Board requested extra time to consult before agreeing a recommendation. “We want to take full account of our partners’ views,” said a department spokesperson. “Any changes will not be made until September 2012 at the earliest and will apply to new students who begin their training on or after the date on which the changes come into effect.”

Medical students in England on five or six year courses have their tuition fees for the fifth and any subsequent years of study paid for by the NHS through the bursary scheme. Students also receive a reduced rate student loan and a means tested maintenance award of up to £4388.

The options laid out for the scheme in the 2009 consultation were a means tested bursary and a non-means tested loan; a non-means tested bursary; retaining the current scheme; moving all healthcare students to the same support arrangements as for all other students in higher education; and employing students on the minimum wage while they are studying.

A BMA spokesman said, “We wanted an opportunity to consult again with students on the options because their views may have changed in light of what’s come out of the Browne review [of higher education funding and student finance] and the new interest rates that are going to apply to loans.

“The Department of Health has taken so long about this that we feel we need to do this consultation to make sure there’s not any difference in their views since we consulted two years ago.”

In 2010 the government proposed amendments to the student support and graduate contribution system that will increase the rate of interest paid by students on the loans they take out from the Student Loans Company. The rate of interest will rise by 3% on top of the retail prices index, and from 2015-16 graduates earning more than £21 000 a year will have to devote 9% of their income to repaying their student loan.

The consultation will take the form of an online survey hosted on the website of the National Union of Students ( [Link] ) and should be available by the end of this week.

  • For more information on the BMA’s response to the consultation on the NHS bursary scheme see [Link] .

Helen Jaques news reporter BMJ Careers

 hjaques@bmj.com

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