Dentists’ leaders have joined a campaign against the scrapping of bursaries for student nurses – warning student dentists could be next.
David Cameron is under fire for going back on a promise to save the grants to nurses and midwives in training, which will now be replaced with loans.
The Prime Minister insists two-thirds of would-be nurses cannot join courses because of the limited numbers of bursaries available, arguing thousands more will now be trained.
But the move was strongly criticised by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who pointed out that Tory MP and former nurse, Maria Caulfield, had admitted she would have struggled to train without a bursary.
The British Dental Association has joined forces with organisations including the Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Nurses, Unison and the National Union of Students in urging Mr Cameron to think again.
The coalition’s protest warns that a switch to loans will lead to student nurses accumulating debt topping £50,000 by the time they finish training.
But a BDA spokesman said it was also concerned that the policy was a slippery slope that could lead to bursaries for dentistry students disappearing as well.
At present, dentists can apply from the fifth year of a five or six-year undergraduate course, or from the second year of the four-year accelerated graduate course.
The bursaries pay out £3,263 for students studying in London (and away from home), £2,324 for students outside London and £1,744 for those living at the parental home.
A BDA spokesman acknowledged that the grants were modest, so were therefore a complement to loans that were already taken out.
But he said: ‘Today, nurses and midwives are in the firing line, but we believe this matters to all health professionals.
‘We are standing with our colleagues, with the students who will be affected by these measures, and to ensure patients are protected through workforce planning.
‘We are now working with partners including the NUS, Unison, RCN to voice our opposition to the replacement of NHS bursaries with loans for healthcare students.’
In the Commons, Mr Corbyn demanded to know why student nurses were being hit with an effective pay cut of £900 through the scrapping of student bursaries.
He said: ‘Nine out of 10 hospitals currently have a nurse shortage – isn’t what you are proposing for the nurse bursary scheme going to exacerbate the crisis.’
But the Prime Minister replied: ‘We’re going to see 10,000 extra nurse degree places because of this policy, because we’re effectively uncapping the numbers that can go into nursing.’
George Osborne wants to bring in the loans from August 2017, with a consultation on the switch due to begin next month.