Healthcare Students: Pay and Financial Support Debate

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Department: Department of Health and Social Care

Healthcare Students: Pay and Financial Support

Andrew Stephenson Excerpts
Monday 20th November 2023

(6 months, 4 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Andrew Stephenson Portrait The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Andrew Stephenson)
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It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Fovargue, for my first Westminster Hall debate in my new role. I am grateful to the British public for raising the important issues covered in the three petitions we are considering today, and to the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) for opening the debate. I also thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), for his contribution and his qualified welcome to me in my new role, and the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) for his interventions during the debate.

Our students are the future of our NHS, so it is imperative that we not only support them throughout their studies, but ensure that as many as possible go on to successful careers in healthcare. The Government recognise the unique nature of healthcare degrees, the intensity of the courses and the additional financial pressures that clinical placements can cause, which is why we are doing as much as we can with the funding available to us to ensure that clinical students have the financial support they need to succeed.

Two of the petitions focus on pay for student placements. While they are on placement, student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals make valuable contributions to clinical teams, but the purpose of such placements is student development, not meeting staffing needs. They exist to give students the opportunity to learn and to acquire the skills and experience they need to graduate and join the professional register. That is why we believe that clinical placements should not be described as jobs. Students are not contracted to provide care and do not hold contracts of employment, so while we recognise the significant contribution made by students, the Government do not plan to introduce pay for students on placement at this time.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova
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The Government are not planning to look at this issue again, but have they looked at the impact of student nurses being taken out of the workforce in NHS care settings, to see how the workforce would manage without them? They play a vital role. Yes, they are learning and so forth, but they also fulfil another role. Have the Government carried out any assessment of the impact of taking them away from that by not giving them pay?

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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The Government and the professional bodies that set the rules for student placements have made it very clear that if the students are not there, the setting should still be clinically safe and procedures should be able to be conducted. All student placements should be in addition to regular staffing; they should not be used to fill gaps in staffing rotas. That is not to suggest in any way that students on placement do not make a significant contribution—I think we all agree that they do, and I pay tribute to them for the contribution they make—but in all settings, if the students are not there the employed staff should be able to continue to deliver NHS services in the way that we all want.

We do not wish to introduce pay for students on placement, but we do intend to continue to listen to students’ concerns about the cost of training and to consider what we can do to support them, building on the work we have already done. Since September 2020, all eligible nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students have benefitted from a non-repayable, non-income-assessed training grant of at least £5,000 per academic year from the learning support fund. On 1 September this year, we announced a 50% increase to the travel and accommodation payments available through the learning support fund, ensuring that students are appropriately reimbursed for travelling to clinical placements.

The Government are not just supporting the more traditional routes into education and training. As we set out in the first ever NHS long-term workforce plan, we are expanding alternative routes into healthcare, enabling people from diverse backgrounds and those for whom a traditional university degree is not possible, or is not the right thing for them, to bring their unique skills and perspectives to the NHS. We are now offering blended learning courses, allowing students to take some of their courses online, and more than a quarter of nurses’ mandatory practice learning hours can now be delivered via innovative simulation. We are also continuing to expand our apprenticeship offer, allowing students to study towards a degree while also learning on the job. As set out in the long-term workforce plan, we will deliver a huge increase in the number of clinical staff apprenticeships; we intend to get them up from 7% today to 20% by 2032. That is building on the success of our existing registered nursing degree apprenticeship programme; more than 10,000 students have started on that course since 2017.

We are providing a more diverse set of pathways into healthcare careers in order to open up more opportunities for staff to progress and move into new roles. Thanks to an increase in the number of associate roles, such as nursing associates, it will be possible to join the NHS as an apprentice healthcare support worker and go on to qualify as a registered nurse.

I would like to pick up on a point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield Central, who talked about the UCAS figures showing a 16% decline in applications. The drop in applications compared with previous years reflects an expected rebalancing following the unprecedented demand for healthcare courses during the pandemic. At the June application deadline this year, there were 44,000 applicants for nursery and midwifery courses in England, which is an increase of 12% compared with this time in 2019. The latest data shows that over 22,000 students have accepted places on nursing and midwifery courses in England, which is an increase of 6% compared with the same time in 2019. If we look at allied health professionals, 2,200 more graduates enrolled on paramedic science courses overall in England in 2021-22 than did so in 2019-20, which represents a 30% increase.

Let me address the second issue raised today: childcare payments for student midwives, nurses and paramedics during their placement hours. The Government understand how important childcare is for studying parents, and we believe that they should have every opportunity to continue in education and achieve their aspirations. As the Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education set out in our response to the petition, the Government provide a range of financial support to students with children. They are eligible for 15 hours of free early education for three and four-year-olds, and full-time students on undergraduate courses who have dependent children could also be eligible for the childcare grant and the parents’ learning allowance. The childcare grant covers whichever is the lowest: 85% of childcare costs or a fixed maximum amount of around £190 a week for one child or £320 for two or more children. The parents’ learning allowance of up to £1,915 a year does not have to be repaid; it is paid in three instalments—one at the start of each term—and goes directly into students’ bank accounts. What is more, as part of the learning support fund, my Department offers all eligible nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students an additional non-repayable and non-income-assessed grant of £2,000 per academic year towards childcare costs.

Using the budgets available to us, the Government will continue to provide students who have children with as many opportunities and as much support as possible to allow them to pursue a career in healthcare. As we set out in the first ever NHS long-term workforce plan, a robust and resilient education and training system is critical to the future of our NHS, because, by having the right people with the right skills in the right places, we can deliver first-class care for patients, now and into the long-term future.