Nursing students in England will now be able to claim 50% more for the cost of accommodation and travel for their clinical placements, the government has announced.
While the move has been welcomed by both students and universities, some have warned that this financial support does not go far enough and have called on the government to instead rethink how nursing courses are funded.
“It just isn’t enough to increase the amount students can claim in travel costs when they are barely able to survive”
The Department of Health and Social Care announced today that eligible students on nursing, midwifery, allied health professions, medical and dental courses will be able to claim 50% more money for any trips taken as part of their training, such as to clinical placements.
Under the changes, reimbursement for travel via the student’s own motor vehicle will rise from 28p to 42p per mile.
According to the government, this means that a student who travels 1,000 miles by car or motorcycle during their placement will now receive £420 compared to £280 under the previous rates.
Meanwhile, travel on the student’s own pedal cycle will go from 20p to 30p per mile to cover the cost of “general maintenance and wear and tear”.
In addition, commercial accommodation like a hotel or bed and breakfast will rise from £55 to up to £82.50 per night, while non-commercial accommodation, such as staying with anyone who is not your parents, will go from £25 to £37.50 per night.
The changes have come into effect from today, in time for the 2023-24 academic year.
It follows commitments laid out in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, which promised to increase the number of nurses in training by more than 53,000 (80%) by 2031-32.
Minister of state for health, Will Quince, said: “Working in the NHS is incredibly rewarding and we want to ensure a diverse range of students can pursue a career in nursing, midwifery or medicine.
“We have therefore listened to students’ concerns and are taking action to ensure they are appropriately reimbursed for any additional costs of travelling for clinical placements.
“Ahead of the biggest ever expansion of education and training places as part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, this will help to support the next generation of NHS staff in their training.”
However, nursing students have warned that the plans today do not go far enough to support students with the cost of undertaking a nursing course.
Rochelle Tattersall, a final-year adult student nurse at the University of Leeds, told Nursing Times that the announcement felt like “a gesture”, noting that the new reimbursement rates for cars were still below the HM Revenue & Customs mileage rates of 45p per mile.
She added: “The real issue that needs to be addressed is the almost £30,000 it costs nurses to train and the eye-watering debt they graduate with.
“It seems pointless to double training places when there is little incentive to train, and universities are already struggling to recruit the number of students they currently have capacity for.
“It just isn’t enough to increase the amount students can claim in travel costs when they are barely able to survive.”
Suzie Bowie, a final-year children’s nursing student at the University of Suffolk, told Nursing Times that while the plans were “a step in the right direction”, they had still left “many students without any help”.
She said: “Despite having to rely on food banks and decide which bills I can and can’t afford to pay, this announcement would not benefit me or the many other students in the same situation as me.”
Ms Bowie is a single parent to high school-age children and has been eligible for money from the NHS Learning Support Fund while studying, which includes a training grant of £5,000 per academic year.
However, she said: “The student maintenance loan and LSF training grant need to reflect the rising costs of living.
“I feel these are the areas the government need to focus on to actually support and retain student nurses in order to enable them to be able to afford to complete their training.”
Meanwhile organisations representing universities have welcomed the move, and have said they hope it will prompt further discussions about financial support for nursing students.
Chief executive of the Council of Deans of Health, Ed Hughes, said: “Members across England will welcome these steps from the government.
“The council has been calling for more targeted support for healthcare students so this is good news and an important step forward.”
Vanessa Wilson, chief executive of the University Alliance, said: “These changes announced today are a welcome first step to recognise the needs of our students and we hope that this is the start of a conversation to really turn the tide on barriers and challenges to NHS recruitment and retention.”
Also responding to the announcement, the Royal College of Nursing deputy director for nursing, Dr Nicola Ashby, said: “We have been campaigning on this and it is an important step in improving nursing students’ ability to afford to fulfil their placements, but more radical changes are needed to address the shortage of nursing students.”
Amid recent statistics showing that the overall number of students coming into nursing has dropped, Dr Ashby called on the government to “remove the burden of student debt and tuition fees from prospective nurses and better pay those in the profession”.
She added: “Far more work needs to be done to make nursing attractive to the next generation.
“The nurses of tomorrow are still being put off by the prospect of eye-watering student debt, low pay, and intolerable working conditions.”