Why the student NHS Bursary is important #BursaryOrBust

The Tory government believe that Nursing students (And I’m sure it will then lead onto other allied health care professional courses such as Radiotherapy, radiography, physiotherapy, ect) don’t need a NHS Bursary to help them fund their course and cost of living.

And  they’re so wrong believing this. It’s just another way to repress the NHS as we know it. And it’s bad for these reasons.

Firstly, I would never – EVER – have had the opportunity to go to university if I got no maintenance grant (for a normal – fine art course). I entered university in the first year  that tuition “top-up” fees came into play. Now, I had no sense of money so the debt didn’t really worry me too much.  And I still don’t have any money.  But I came from a family that had NO money too. I was brought up below the poverty line. No one in my family has any qualifications. There were about 12 out of my 6th form (of 250+ students) who went onto university in the area i’m from. Are you sensing all this lower-social-economic working class, less privileged stuff here?

My mom jumps from minimum wage temp job to temp job. Ruining credit scores after credit scores – but we get by. Thanks to door-step loans and borrowing from my nan  – back and forth.

When I went to university the first time – I kept a bunch of part time jobs, I had the summer to earn more money. I would wire my mom extra money to help her out too. I didn’t get ANY help. I worked in the USA on unpaid internships because I worked in the bookies in my spare time. I left university 4 years later with a debt of around £23,000. That was my tuition fees & living loan. I had also got a maintenance grant and a university bursary. And I can’t believe ‘normal degree students’ won’t get that in the future now either. I didn’t party too much, but I had to go to London a lot as part of my course and art materials and an art degree show is expensive to put on. But I made ends meet and I don’t ever remembering feeling like I was truely money screwed. But I lived in my overdraft. I didn’t care. It was free.

Fast forward to right now.

I’m in my last year of my 3 year Radiotherapy & Oncology degree. And I CONSTANTLY feel like I don’t have enough money to survive.

I’m doing this degree because after a horrific health experience I wanted to both give back to the NHS that has saved my life, and given me so much in compassion and help. It rocked my world-view. Falling sick changed who I was as a person and my old life just didn’t fit in the way it did before. But it was also really important to me to enhance patient care further,  to get rid of those moments of care where I felt misunderstood as a patient and not really listened to. Sometimes we all just need to be listened to, even if there’s nothing you can do about the issue at hand. And there’s so many systems and pathways that can be made so much better.

And so, I thought that the NHS could do with someone like me, someone who had already done work with patient experience, who can empathize what my patients are experiencing, who thrives on doing a great job and helping people, making things, and whose passion for social justice and a better society motivates everything I do.

But falling ill had made me even more strapped for cash. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t do my freelance job. I lost work, I lost hope. For a whole year. When I decided that studying radiotherapy would also be good for me as a coping mechanism and as a routine to get me back to functioning in the real world – to make me feel a bit human again and to understand the system that I loved and hated – i knew because my course was funded by the NHS I could ‘afford’ to do it. This was a hoop that wasn’t going to hinder me. I wasn’t discriminated against because I didn’t come from money.  If that bursary wasn’t there. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to do it.

But here’s the thing. The NHS Bursary barely covers living costs anyways. And they want to chop it?

Being a healthcare student isn’t like being a ‘normal course’ student. On my art course, we started late September, had a few essays, researched a lot, constantly worked (though this wasn’t logged) in the studio (realtively stress free) and you’d have a few assessments and shows along the way. You made it what it needed to be. As time consuming or dedicated as you wanted. We’d have a nice christmas break, and a nice Easter break. No exams. We’d break up for the whole summer around May time. And the cycle would happen again. I could work weekends if i wanted to because i did all my work during the week. I could work evenings because – well – i could go and work in the studio whenever it suited me. I had 4 months of potential time to save up from a part-time job and/or get extra experience in my area.

A healthcare course is much, much, much more and very different. We work 35+ hours a week on clinical practice. Helping patients, cleaning and setting up equipment, cleaning up patients,  letting them cry on you. You, as students, do carry quite a bit of the work – that keeps the NHS moving. But you’re being watched, constantly. You have this constant feeling of stress because you know you need something clinical ticked off, or you need to do more case reports, or case discussions/clinical examinations, you’re constantly being stretched and observed and building your professional knowledge, confidence and persona. And it’s not like the art studio, if I mess up – i can’t just come back to it, it’s someone’s life it’s affecting. Add 1-2 hours of commuting to work each way. And then time for cooking tea and tomorrows lunch. Then add on ALL of the academic work that you need to do that night and get up and go to work the next day again.

You have ePortfolio, exams, assignments after assignments, clinical competencies, IPE, dissertation, more exams. And you work ALL summer too. No Camp America for you. This is all on top of 35+ hours. But guess what, if you was doing a business degree, or a marketing or computer science degree with a work placement – You’d be paid for your work placement. What about us?

What about this Bursary?

Unlike normal degree students – healthcare students get sent across the region and the country for their clinical practice. They can be in Doncaster one placement and then in Sheffield the other. On my course people can be placed as far as Newcastle and Leister. Commuting from your house in Sheffield to Newcastle is probably going to be a no go. So guess what, you have to pay for 2 rents – often UP FRONT – out of your own money. But get this. That NHS Bursary barely covers your Sheffield rent anyways. Where are you going to get this extra cash from? How are you going to eat? How can you afford the bus to work? Sometimes it’s just cheaper to rent a place then it is to actually take public transport (which is pretty horrific) If like me, you’re just a poor kid from the Donx, whose mom can barely pay her own rent anyways, where do you get this extra money from? What happens if you’re a parent? What do you do then?

Then lets consider all this academic work on top of your clinical placement rota. Each 20 credit module equals 200 hours of study or teaching. Since you’re on clinical practice, that 200 hours is your own study time. But you’ve already worked 8 hours that day, you get home around 6-ish if you’re lucky. You need to do that work. What employer is going to be that understanding of your dodgy work pattern? And you’re probably going to be REALLY tired after finishing a whole day of clinical placement ontop a whole shift at Boots,  then go home and try to do some ePortfolio and do this ALL again. And people DO IT. That’s not the debate. But could you do it if that bursary wasn’t there at all? i don’t think so.

When you get a NHS bursary (which FYI is at the most around £380 a month) you don’t get any extra help from the university like you do on a ‘normal course’. You’re exempt from quite a few hardship funds in place within the university. And student loans will only lend you up to £2,200 a year – max. You have to work clinical placement all summer remember too.

Then lets consider all these extra costs which you won’t think about.

Your uniform has to be clean on each day. That’s 5 days of washing straight up. It’s white – that’s an extra load of washing. If you’re living in student accommodation – your washing is going to run you around 5-10 extra pound a week. You’re working all week,  and there’s something about clinical placement which makes you WAY more hungrier than in real life. And hospital canteen food is ridiculously expensive – so you have to plan ahead and pay extra in your food shopping to run the costs of a decent packed lunch to get you through the working day. There’s all the extra things too. You want to be ahead of the game for ePortfolio and job hunting – you need to go to conferences – often way expensive – even for students. But that’s part of your professional conduct and identity. Then you have your normal course costs. Really expensive course text books.

Then if you’ve survived all of this, and get to the end of the course and want to get a job. You have to pay for a licence to practice and a membership to your college of your profession to ensure you have insurance – before you’ve even got a job, a pay-check. This is around £380 before you’ve even started. I have no idea at this point where my money will come from to pay for that. We’ll see.

I’m lucky because I’m poor I get the full bursary. Others aren’t but their parents don’t help them out because they can’t afford to either. Many student accommodations are over £4000 a year rent now, which is more than your years bursary.

I work as a freelance artist so most of the time i can work within my own time-frames. However my health still sucks balls. I struggle with fatigue like you wouldn’t believe. So often I get home, and all I do is sleep. It makes doing my school work even harder on top of trying to do freelance work too. But I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

Others aren’t that lucky. Despite having my bursary and working my freelance jobs – i’m talking many jobs too – I barely make ends meet. I’ve ruined my credit score on this degree even further than before. I’ve got to the end of my over-draft and even had my card declined. That never happened to me before. But it’s because I’m paying up front for rents, for train tickets for clinical placement. For food that’s not covered by my loans.

Healthcare students don’t fit your normal format. Most enter the degree much older than your average student population. Many have children and family. They need this bursary. They too probably already have a degree like me. Their story is probably similar. They saw a loved one close suffer dilibertating illness that inspired their calling into healthcare; after having children they wanted to become a midwife; or sometimes they just needed time to mature to discover their true calling.

The NHS treats a population as diverse as you can imagine, and it needs staff that represents the population it is treating. We don’t want a select few who can afford to take on the debt or that their parents will pay everything for them. We want them as well as the people who know what it’s like to be down and out on your luck, who know what it feels like to suffer in constant pain, who have children and know what a parent may be thinking, who know how tough times are. We need people who are compassionate, and creative and passionate and brave. And I don’t want them to be priced out.

My mom has always brought me up with the belief that I shouldn’t make money a barrier. This has hindered me in different ways  – like buying things I shouldn’t have because I can’t really afford them – but not everyone is brought up with that belief and some people don’t have the emotional or financial support to be able to take a leap and do a course without any Bursary help.

You wouldn’t expect a kid to pay for their apprenticeship- you give them a terrible wage (which FYI- apprentices need to be paid more too). Nursing students, like all healthcare professionals DESERVE a LIVING WAGE. The bursary isn’t a living wage. But it’s something. Taking that away is disrespectful, it doesn’t acknowledge the hardwork and the goodwill that comes with the healthcare courses. The NHS does benefit from students. We don’t ask for much because we’re passionate about making the system better, about caring for society. It’s NOT about money. EVER. But this is forcing people not to have an opportunity, and potentially change the face of the NHS.

The consequences of not  having a NHS bursary in nursing are SO much bigger than you’d ever think on first inspection. We’ll loose our social mobility of the profession, the career progression, the mentorship, we’ll loose people applying for the course, and have a shortage ina  time that’s already suffering a shortage.

It’s bad news. And it’s not what the NHS stands for. That’s why I am standing with Nurses and all healthcare workers – for both the junior contract and the student nurses bursaries. We’re all one in the NHS. We work across professions and care for our patients and their carers and we need to look out for one another too. To the future of nursing, and all healthcare professions, and our care and the NHS.

 

 

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