The NHS bursary for nursing students in Wales will continue until at least 2025, while those receiving it will also be eligible for more financial support from next year, the Welsh Government has announced.
Welsh health minister Eluned Morgan has today confirmed another short-term extension to the bursary scheme, which is now guaranteed for the 2024-25 academic year.
Meanwhile, in a new move, the cap on the amount which student nurses, midwives and allied healthcare professionals can claim in a maintenance loan if they receive the NHS bursary is being lifted.
“This announcement needs to be the start of a reform to ensure nursing is a profession that people want to enter”
Currently, those making use of the NHS bursary, such as student nurses, can only take out a reduced rate maintenance loan on up to £5,360 per year on top of the money from the bursary.
In contrast, students not in receipt of the NHS bursary are able to borrow more than £10,000, depending on household income.
However, today, the Welsh Government announced that it was removing the cap for bursary students as of the 2024-25 academic year.
It also confirmed the bursary itself would remain in place until at least 2025.
The NHS bursary covers tuition fees and offers a non-means tested maintenance grant of £1,000, plus a means-tested maintenance bursary of up to £4,491 which are non-repayable.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Wales welcomed the changes but described them as only the “start” of a reform in the way access to nursing education is funded.
Sandy Harding, associate director (professional practice) at RCN Wales, said financial hardship was chasing away prospective nurses, and praised the removal of the maintenance loan cap.
Ms Harding added: “Nursing students spend 50% of their time working on placements and need to support their families.
“This announcement needs to be the start of a reform to ensure nursing is a profession that people want to enter, whether they study full-time for their degree.
“Nursing in higher education needs to be sustainable for the sector and provide research and career opportunities.
“Wales needs nurses so the Welsh Government must prioritise the future of nursing education.”
In terms of the future of the bursary beyond 2025, the government said it would hold a consultation looking into “the best way of continuing to support” people on healthcare programmes, including student nurses.
RCN Wales has previously warned that any decision to scrap the bursary would be a “disaster”.
Health minister Ms Morgan said, following the announcement: “We are determined to ensure Wales remains an attractive proposition for talented healthcare students.
“That’s why we continue to invest in the training of the dedicated nurses, midwives and other highly-skilled professionals working in our NHS.
“This bursary has helped so many people qualify and work in the NHS, bolstering our workforce.
“Access to the full amount of maintenance loan will also help those beginning their healthcare, medical and dental journeys to combat financial hardship and poor mental health amid the continuing cost of living crisis.”
Chief nursing officer for Wales, Sue Tranka, added that she was “delighted” that the bursary was being extended, and described the changes as a “clear commitment” to improving the sustainability of the NHS workforce.
Education minister Jeremy Miles said: “It is important we support healthcare students during this cost-of-living crisis, so we can train and retain a skilled medical workforce in Wales.
“That’s why we are providing funding to enable NHS bursary students to access the full maintenance loan, ensuring that financial hardship is not a factor in preventing students from studying here.”
It comes on the same day that new financial support measures have also been announced for student nurses in England.