Like most years since its birth, it has been an intense year for the NHS. From junior doctors coming to the brink of strike action, to a south London choir beating Justin Bieber to the Christmas number one. But for me and many others one of the biggest events was George Osborne announcing he will be scrapping the NHS bursary and funded tuition for students who begin training in nursing, midwifery, physiotherapy and speech language therapy (the list goes on) in his Autumn Statement.
The Tories have decided nurses and other healthcare professionals will graduate with up to £50,000 of debt - despite half their training consisting of work placements in hospitals and the wider community. Students will pay to train while completing up to 48 hours unpaid work a week.
And students will graduate into a job that, while incredibly rewarding, has seen a five-year pay freeze, rapidly deteriorating working conditions and ever lengthening hours. Government rhetoric implies that 10,000 new nurses will be trained as a result of Osborne’s bursary cut. Those I study with are curious to know who these 10,000 people are, given that everyone we know says their bursary was their lifeline.
When the decision was announced, students from the Nursing and Midwifery Society at King’s College London took action and called a demonstration outside the Department of Health. We expected a handful of people but hundreds turned up, despite the short notice, including other university students, unions, and anti-austerity groups.
Over 100,000 signed a petition calling for George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt to keep the bursary, triggering a parliamentary debate – now scheduled for this coming Monday 11th January.
Before that, this Saturday 9 January, we will be demonstrating in Westminster. The demonstration – initially organised by a team of Kings’ students – has generated growing support, including from trade unions and from well-known figures including Green Party leader Natalie Bennett. Smaller campaigns have sprung up alongside such as students writing their ‘NHS bursary stories’ and posting them online.
The NHS is being attacked from all angles. The right wing press declare that "we have no money for housing or benefits", as the government sets out to make sure the working class continue to pay for ever-more elusive "economic success" with further cuts to the public service we rely on in times of need. Alongside it we have the demonisation of the vulnerable, exemplified by the Tories turning their backs on refugees. While there is apparently no money to save lives, we seem to have endless supplies of money required to bomb people.
2016 can be the year for us. People have and need to continue getting angry about the future of the NHS. The plight of student nurse, midwives and allied health professionals is symbolic of the wider fight to save the NHS and value those that work in it. So join us tomorrow outside St Thomas' Hospital, London at 12pm, from where we’ll march across the bridge to parliament and on to Downing Street. John us - and say No to Bursary Cuts! #bursaryorbust
If you think the government needs to re-think its plans to saddle nurses with huge debts, join us as an OurNHS supporter today, and we'll continue our fight to protect the NHS, its staff and patients.