The Bromsgrove Advertiser is calling on the Government to scrap tuition fees for student nurses serving in our hospitals. NATASHA MEEK explains why

IN THE coronavirus pandemic, our thoughts turn to the healthcare heroes who have gone above and beyond their duty as they always have and always will.

Everyday NHS staff walk fearlessly into our hospitals, facing a virus which threatens their own lives and relatives as much as their patients’. And they do it because there’s something in their DNA that calls on them to care.

Among those fighting to save lives on the frontline stands a new generation of nurses, paramedics and midwives, experiencing their career firsts in the middle of an unprecedented international public health emergency. They are fighting a highly infectious invisible killer with no cure and no treatments.

Every day they are facing situations even the most experienced hospital staff have never seen in their lifetimes.

They are the final year students who signed up out of good will. And yet they are the same nurses paying £9,250 a year tuition fees for a degree course cut short by the Covid-19 crisis. They are the same members of staff asked to work an unpaid placement or waiting to be enrolled in a paid band 4 nursing role.

Until 2016-17, students studying a nursing degree received a bursary worth up to £16,454 a year. The bursary also met student tuition fees.

But in 2015 the Government unexpectedly scrapped the bursary. Doing so would increase the number of people training to be a nurse, according to the then-Chancellor George Osborne.

He couldn't have been more wrong.

Since the Government scrapped NHS bursaries and replaced them with tuition fees and loans there has been a 23 per cent reduction in applications for nursing courses in England.

According to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), it is a key reason why hospitals started this pandemic critically short of nurses - and why thousands of students have now been rushed to the frontline before their courses are finished.

The fear of running up huge debts has deterred many good candidates from becoming a nurse. Those that have gone ahead now face starting a new career with a huge financial burden.

Ironically, from the next academic year, starting in September 2020, all nursing students in England will get a £5,000-a-year maintenance grant. In addition, those who plan to work in areas with the greatest need, or in disciplines where there is a shortage, will receive another £3,000.

But that's cold comfort for the thousands of student nurses currently in our hospitals coping with Covid-19.

Today the Advertiser calls on the Government to scrap university tuition fees for academic year 2019/20 for student nurses who have shown their dedication to the NHS by serving in the coronavirus pandemic.

MPs across the political divide have already thrown their weight behind the campaign which asks: Is it fair to expect students to put their lives in danger and pay for the privilege?

The RCN backed the campaign, branding tuition fees for healthcare students a “mistake” and “a barrier to safely staffing hospital and other care settings”.

The nursing institution says all students should have “fair pay and conditions” as new members of the NHS workforce.

Glenn Turp, for the RCN explained: "Tuition fees for nursing courses were a mistake. The number of people applying for nursing dropped off a cliff when they were introduced.

"They are a barrier to safely staffing hospital and other care settings and should be removed without delay."

And he said brave students joining the frontline deserve to be recognised: “They have chosen to leave their courses early to join the workforce to help tackle the pandemic - they should be given fair pay and conditions.

“Students who have chosen to enter the workforce early are welcomed by hospitals and other health and care settings as helping in a time of crisis, but they must be protected."

Newsquest approached the Treasury and the Department for Health but they declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “We are grateful to all students who choose to support our NHS during this extremely difficult time and will be ensuring all students who do opt in are rewarded fairly for their hard work."

* If you agree it is unfair to ask student nurses to pay tuition fees while they care for sick and dying coronavirus victims in our hospitals please sign our petition by visiting the Parliament petitions website on