Nursing students and newly qualified nurses met with MSPs and senior nurse leaders in Edinburgh to discuss the action that’s needed to ensure all nursing students can complete their studies without falling into financial hardship.
RCN members explained the financial concerns they and their fellow students are experiencing and the serious impact these are having on their mental and physical wellbeing and academic studies. Numerous stories of students considering leaving their studies due to financial pressures struck a chord with attendees and hit home the seriousness of these issues.
The roundtable meeting came as UCAS statistics show a 14% drop in acceptances onto nursing programmes in Scotland compared to this point last year – the number of accepted applicants to nursing courses at this point in the acceptance cycle is the lowest in the last 5 years. This follows a drop in the number of acceptance onto nursing courses in Autumn 2022 resulting in nearly 600 fewer nursing students beginning degrees than the commissioned intake number.
Meanwhile NHS workforce statistics published this week show that the recruitment crisis in nursing is not improving with over 4,000 registered nurse posts vacant in the NHS alone.
At the roundtable meeting, RCN members shared their insight and experience and discussed the action that is needed to better support nursing students. Scotland’s Chief Nursing Officer and MSPs from Labour, the Conservatives and SNP joined the session chaired by RCN Scotland Director Colin Poolman.
The roundtable event follows the publication of the RCN Scotland report Nursing Student Finance, the true costs of becoming a nurse. Based on a survey of over 1,000 nursing students from across Scotland, the report contained stark findings:
99% of respondents said their finances cause them some level of concern
74% said this was having a high or very high impact on their mental health, and 48% on their physical health
58% said this was having a high or very high impact on their academic performance
66% have considered dropping out of their course due to financial concerns
RCN Scotland is calling for Scottish government to boost the financial package for nursing students and establish a regular review of the level of support to make sure it rises in line with the cost of living. The trade union and professional body is also calling for a new clinical placement expenses process that enables students to claim during placements, improves access to advance payments, ensures prompt reimbursement and removes current barriers that may result in students falling into financial hardship. Health boards should also streamline the process for students to register with their local staff bank so they can supplement their bursary more effectively.
Lou Hyett-Collins, a student at the University of the Highlands and Islands and one of Scotland’s members on the RCN Student Committee, said: “The nursing student voice came through loud and clear at today’s meeting with many powerful stories shared. So many of us are struggling and the level of hardship being experienced, if it continues without significant action from the Scottish government, is a threat to the current and future nursing workforce. Applications to nursing courses have dropped alarmingly so that not all places on university courses were filled last year and acceptances onto courses this year are at their lowest level for five years. A fair financial package has never been more important to encourage more people to study nursing.”
Chloe Jackson, a recent graduate of Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and Scotland’s other member on the RCN’s Student Committee, said: “Nursing is not like other degrees. Many nursing students must work to supplement their income on top of a demanding academic timetable. Working long hours on top of completing clinical placements and studying can lead to burn out before students even start their nursing career. Many nursing students are older and have existing financial commitments, children or other dependents, and many are responsible for providing more than half or all of their household’s financial income while studying. We need more financial support to prevent so many falling into hardship and burn out.”
Sam Moffat, a student at Dundee University and member of RCN Council, said: “The recruitment crisis in nursing is not improving and this week new figures show there are over 4,000 registered nurse vacancies in the NHS alone, with severe shortages also impacting Scotland’s social care services. Today’s meeting was a valuable opportunity for RCN members to come together and tell politicians what is needed to properly invest in the education of new nurses, attract more people into nursing and retain students throughout their education.”