Anna, a student nurse at City University, spoke to Solidarity.
Are there issues affecting student nurses other than the bursary cut?
Yes, poverty. Most students cannot afford to pay for basic living costs, such as food and rent. So we have to look for other ways to support ourselves, such as taking paid bank shifts as care assistants.
Short staffing on wards is a problem. We all feel much pressure and are taking on work above our capabilities. Having less newly qualified nurses in the future will compound the pressure. In order to give compassionate care, we need to be mindful of our own mental health to avoid burnout. The drop out rate for nursing is high, due to the emotional stress. When we finish a 12 hour shift, we don’t just clock off; we worry about our patients. Will they be okay tomorrow? How will the results of the scans affect their families? The average age for a student nurse is 29. Some have young families, so caring for your family whilst being a student nurse is incredibly challenging.
Are student nurses at City organised into unions? Do you think unions could be doing more, or doing anything differently, to better organise student nurses?
Most student nurses belong to either the RCN, Unite or the Nursing and Midwifery Council. What we need is more publicity about what the student cuts are and how they will affect the whole of the NHS. It needs to be known that Physio, Occupational Therapists, Speech and Language therapists’ bursaries will all be cut.
What is the link between the student nurses’ fight over bursaries and the junior doctors’ movement?
Both are attempts to save the NHS. The junior doctor contract will mean there are unsafe staffing levels and declining quality of care. And cutting student nurse bursaries means fewer people will enter the profession. The cuts would mean a student taking on £50,000 of debt to become a nurse. With a starting salary of £21,000, nurses will be unable to pay off the debt and unable to provide for their families. We want the ratio of nurses to patients to be one nurse to every eight patients. The Mid Staffs scandal was partly down to poor staffing levels. At the moment in London, some of the mental health wards have a 30% staffing vacancy. The NHS is being privatised through the back door. Our welfare state is slowly being eroded. We need to care for the sick and the most vulnerable in our society and we want to support health equality. Your quality of health should not be determined, by your income.
What is the next step?
For nurses and students, physios, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists to stage a strike with doctors. What would you say to student nurses elsewhere who want to get things going? Start by talking to doctors, nurses and members of the public. Listen to their needs, as well as talking about student bursaries. Search for the Facebook page “Save our bursaries” and get in touch with other student nurses. The NHS will remain as long as there are people willing to fight for it.