Nursing leaders are calling on the Welsh Government to stand by their commitment to continue to fund the NHS bursary for student nurses in Wales, and to increase the support offered.
The call comes as the NHS bursary for student nurses in Wales is set to be reviewed again, with a public consultation on the scheme due to take place later this year.
In April 2022 the Welsh Government extended the NHS bursary for a single year, guaranteeing financial support to student nurses studying in Wales for the 2023-24 academic year.
The Welsh Government has previously committed to continue to fund the bursary until 2026, in its Programme for Government, published in 2021.
However, a Welsh Government spokesperson has confirmed that the NHS bursary scheme is currently being reviewed and that a consultation on the scheme would be opened later in 2023.
They said: “Continuing to fund the NHS bursary scheme is part of our Programme for Government commitment.
“We are currently reviewing the scheme to ensure it offers a comparable package of support to other repayable student finance schemes and incentivises individuals to work in Wales after graduation.
“A consultation on the NHS Bursary Scheme will open later in the year.”
“Nursing students are already struggling financially with rising costs and any reduction in funding would have appalling consequences”
Under the NHS bursary scheme, nurses who are willing to commit to working in Wales for two years following completion of their degree get funding to cover the cost of tuition fees as well as a bursary for living costs.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Wales has questioned the need for yet another consultation of the bursary scheme given that one was carried out in 2018, with further stakeholder engagement in 2019.
It warned that ensuring the bursary provided a support package to nurses “comparable to other repayable student finance schemes” would risk leaving nurses financially worse off than other students.
This was because the nature of their degree meant student nurses did not have the time to hold down a part-time job, making them more reliant on student funding.
RCN Wales also expressed concerns that the Welsh Government might decide to scrap the bursary scheme following the consultation, despite the commitment to fund it to 2026.
Sandy Harding, RCN Wales associate director of nursing for professional practice, told Nursing Times that the Welsh Government needed to understand that a decision to scrap the NHS bursary scheme would be a “disaster”.
She said: “Nursing students are already struggling financially with rising costs and any reduction in funding would have appalling consequences.”
Ms Harding added that RCN Wales would, on the contrary, urge the government to boost financial support for student nurses.
“We are consulting our student and higher education members and will strongly advise the government to increase student support to encourage more people to become nurses,” she said.