Jeff Smith, Labour MP for Manchester Withington, has responded to the Health Minister’s comments about student nurses.
In a letter to a fellow Conservative MP, the Care Minister Helen Whately wrote that student nurses were ‘not deemed to be providing a service’ in hospitals. The Royal College of Nursing’s students committee have described her remarks as ‘factually inaccurate’ and requested a meeting on the issue.
Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the comments were ‘an insult to hard-working student nurses, many of whom gave up paid work to be on the frontline answering the call of duty at this time of national Covid emergency.’ He added that ministers should be doing all they can to support student nurses.
The latest figures show that more than 26,000 student nurses and midwives opted to join the NHS frontline since the pandemic hit the UK, with a large proportion working with Covid patients.
In 2017 the Government abolished NHS bursaries for student nurses, midwives and Allied Health Professionals, a move heavily opposed by Labour. The Government has recently announced the introduction of smaller bursaries of £5000 to £8000 from September 2020, but has said they will not backdate this.
This means that those who started their course after the previous bursary scheme was scrapped, but before the new one has been introduced, will be left out of pocket. In addition, Ministers plan to retain tuition fees for student nurses.
“The Minister’s comments about the contribution of student nurses were out of touch and wrong. We should be paying tribute to the brave and dedicated student nurses who have chosen to work in the NHS at this difficult time and be thankful for the service they provide. I’m sure that the thousands of patients they have cared for are grateful for their work.
“Student nurses must be rewarded for all they do, and Labour will continue to press the Government on scrapping tuition fees and restoring NHS bursaries.
“Many health workers on the frontline have been undervalued and underpaid for too long and deserve much better. We need to re-evaluate our priorities and deliver them a better future when we come through this pandemic.”