Dan Langley, a leading nurse activist, examines the real impact of Tory cuts to NHS nursing bursaries.

After the loss of NHS bursaries, nurse and midwife students have seen their working hours rapidly increase, whilst racking up the same level of debt as other students. Applications to nursing courses have dropped off, leaving services stretched to the limits. Those with learning difficulties have been severly affected. Dan Langley, a leading nurse activist, examines the real impact of Tory cuts.

After the loss of bursaries for NHS students, NHS nurse and midwife students have begun working 37.5–48 hour weeks, whilst racking up the same level of debt as other students. This is having an alarming effect on the number of people wanting to pursue these courses, with massive application drops seen at universities across the country. All of this is just as the students of the ‘Bursary or Bust’ campaign warned.

It was reported that there was a 23% fall off for the autumn 2017 intake nationally, and a 24% drop from EU nationals, with a 40% drop in London applications. For the figures including UK and EU nationals: 65,620 applied in the final year of the bursary; this year we only have 53,010 applications - a far cry from the alleged ‘extra 10,000 nurses’ Jeremy Hunt said would come from the bursary removal. We’re now more than 20,000 below the Department of Health’s expectations of 75,000 nursing students.

Because of this, one of the nursing courses has gone completely bust. London South Bank University has seen applications reduce by 75% this year for its BSc learning disability nursing degree. As a result, it was forced to cancel the course. A total of just 79 people applied, opposed to 337 who applied in 2016 - a direct impact not only of the bursary loss, but also mixed with the 1% pay cap making nursing a non-economically viable line of work.

This is at a time when only 692 extra mental health staff have been recruited into the NHS in the last seven years (due to more psychotherapists joining, as mental health nursing numbers have dropped drastically), whilst the numbers for learning disability staffing levels are unknown. Meanwhile, according to NHS improvements, there currently isn’t a model for safe staffing levels in learning difficulty services - a disturbing finding.

Theresa May scandalously couldn’t tell the difference between mental health and learning disability services during her disastrous general election campaign this summer. She was confronted on the campaign trail by Cathy, a person with a learning disability, who passionately brought May down a peg by showing her the reality of Tory austerity - namely the loss of her carer and benefits.

The reality of these cuts, as Mencap surveys show, is that 1 in 4 people with learning difficulties responding state that they spend less than one hour outside their homes on a daily basis. This has led to people with learning difficulties feeling isolated, and one third of them admitting to feeling ‘scared about the future’ thanks to the Tories’ regressive attitude.

A stark story Mencap told was that of a woman named Jane. Jane attended a day centre five days a week before 2011. After she was reassessed for her disability benefits, her budget plunged to a mere £74 a week and she was no longer entitled to day centre support. Mencap stated that her budget could at its best be stretched to three days, and that, “In real terms this means Jane will go from 5 full days to 1.5 days of activity per week”, leaving her parents having to continue their exhausting fight for adequate care.

These are just a few of the many abysmal acts of brutality that are taking place against some of our most vulnerable in society. With no new learning difficulties nurses being trained at London South Bank university this year (and maybe the next year), and with other universities most likely following suit, coupled with austerity continuing to dismantle services and scale back benefits, individual stories such as Cathy’s and Jane’s will turn into their thousands.

We need to fight for a socialist alternative, where much needed jobs such as nurses are fully funded. In an economy planned for need and democratically controlled by the working class, health and social care will be restructured to truly provide quality support, alongside the economic support that people with learning difficulties are entitled to for life.

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