Are we helping student nurses cope with cost of living?

Let’s take a quick look at the cost of living / inflation situation for students studying nursing, midwifery and allied health professional (AHP) courses.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

I’m starting here from the assumption that all four nations really ought to have been uprating entitlements for inflation in general – and where they were using out of date predictions of inflation when setting entitlements in advance, should have been making emergency adjustments in light of inflation hurtling through the roof this year.

Have they been doing that? What do you think.

Confusingly for these students, the general tuition fee and maintenance loan situation is usually dependent on which part of the UK they’re from – but top-up NHS bursaries, allowances and expenses are usually dependent on which bit of the UK they’re studying in.

In England, as well as the standard maintenance loan, all eligible full-time students can get the NHS Learning Support Fund – that’s £5,000 per academic year that isn’t means-tested, plus an extra £1,000 for those on specialist subjects, £2,000 on top if they have children and a maximum of £3,000 in hardship funding.

It perhaps won’t surprise you to learn that none of these figures have been adjusted for inflation since they were set in September 2020, following the 2019 election pledge to increase nurse numbers by 50,000 over five years – and that max hardship figure hasn’t been increased since 2017.

As well as this, students can get reimbursed for additional travel and any temporary accommodation costs incurred as a result of attending a practice placement. Anyone who’s spent more than 5 minutes talking to student nurses will know that having to claim expenses in arrears is the first big bugbear – but the real scandal is (again) a failure to uprate.

This year students getting to placement on a pedal cycle can claim 20p per mile, those in a car can claim 28p per mile (both having deducted the usual cost of travel from the term time address to university), and students can claim £55 a night for commercial accommodation (e.g. filthy and or miserable hotels or bed and breakfasts that are unlikely to even have a desk at that price) and up to £25 per night for non-commercial accommodation. These figures haven’t changed since at least 2016.

Students will be thrilled to learn that those they are working alongside on those placements have mileage rates of 56p per mile for the first 3,500 miles, which the RCN has been saying is too low since March.

Bafflingly, there’s two options in Wales – one for those prepared to commit to working in Wales for 2 years following the completion of their course, and another for those who can’t or won’t. For the former, all tuition fees are paid – and there’s then an NHS grant of £1,000, a means-tested NHS bursary of up to £2,643 and a reduced maintenance loan of up to £4,855 (or up to £2,534 for English domiciled students). The NHS grant and bursary elements have not been uprated for inflation for a number of years.

Ever so slightly more realistically, accommodation costs can be claimed up to £65 per night, although that limit is temporary and will be reviewed in November 2022.

In Scotland, eligible students can apply for a Paramedic, Nursing and Midwifery Student Bursary (PNMSB). The bursary is not income assessed and is £10,000 in years 1, 2 and 3 and then reduced to £7,500 in year 4. The value hasn’t been uprated since Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement for A/Y 2019/20, and the maximums for accommodation and travel haven’t been uprated here either.

In Northern Ireland, the tuition fee for nursing and midwifery courses is fully funded by the Department of Health for students who have been resident in Northern Ireland for three years prior to the course, and for students from the Republic of Ireland – but not for students from England, Scotland, Wales or the EU. They can’t get additional support from Student Finance NI, but they do get a Department of Health bursary – it was £5,165 a year in 2016 and only seems to have been increased to £5,525 last year. Weirdly, nobody seems to know if it’s going to be uprated for inflation this year, so let’s assume not, eh.

Oh and while I’m on – for medicine (and dentistry) students in England, quite apart from the #LiveableNHSBursary year 4 and 5 problem, neither the means-tested aspect (up to £2,643 for those away from home and outside London) nor the non-means tested aspect (£1,000) of their NHS Bursary have been uprated since 2016 – not something that those who wang on about the number of places ever seem to mention.

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