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Poll suggests public back loan forgiveness for nurses

The public backs the idea of a loan forgiveness scheme for student nurses in England, according to new YouGov findings.

Three quarters (76%) of those surveyed supported a policy whereby nurses would have 50% of their tuition fees wiped after five years working in the NHS and 100% after 10 years.

“Nurse educators, nurse leaders and now the public are speaking as one – the chancellor must heed them”

Rachel Hewitt

Such a policy is being called for by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and universities group MillionPlus.

The two organisations jointly wrote to chancellor Jeremy Hunt last week asking him to include the loan forgiveness scheme in his spring budget, which is taking place tomorrow.

They believe the policy would help tackle longstanding nursing shortages in the NHS and the recent decline in applications to nursing courses.

In the new YouGov poll, of those who supported loan forgiveness, 73% said they thought the scheme would encourage more people to consider a career in nursing.

In addition, it suggested that the public wants Mr Hunt to prioritise investment in the NHS (62%) ahead of tax cuts (27%) and other issues.

It comes seven years after nursing bursaries in England were controversially scrapped by then-Conservative chancellor George Osborne. Mr Hunt was health secretary at the time.

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Since then, the government has introduced cost-of-living grants for student nurses of £5,000 per year, which do not need to be repaid.

However, nurses are still required to repay their tuition fees.

Pat Cullen

Speaking today, RCN general secretary and chief executive Professor Pat Cullen said: “A loan forgiveness scheme for nurses working in the NHS and public services can stop students being shackled with debt and help attract and retain more nurses – it has huge support among the public too.

“The chancellor has repeatedly said that he plans to deliver tax cuts in the upcoming budget, but the public don’t agree with his priorities.

“They want investment in the NHS above all else. That is a message that needs to be heard loud and clear before Wednesday.”

The YouGov poll showed that loan forgiveness for nurses was backed by voters from all three main political parties, including 73% of Tory voters, 89% of Labour voters and 79% of Liberal Democrats supporters.

Rachel Hewitt, chief executive of MillionPlus, said: “That a fee loan forgiveness scheme for nurses who choose to work and remain in the NHS has such overwhelming backing from the country is unsurprising and vindicates a long-held MillionPlus position.

“The cost to the Treasury pales in comparison to the long-term economic and social benefits brought about through improved staff retention and should be viewed in Westminster in the same way that this polling suggests the people of Britain do: as a vital investment in Britain’s future.

“Nurse educators, nurse leaders and now the public are speaking as one – the chancellor must heed them.”

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When approached for comment, the government made no indication that it was planning to introduce a loan forgiveness scheme for nurses and instead outlined the current financial support offer.

A spokesperson said: “Nurses play a vital role in the NHS by providing high-quality, compassionate and safe care and there would not be an NHS without them.

“To support them through their studies, nurses can access a training grant of £5,000 per academic year from the NHS through the Learning Support Fund, and qualified nurses received a 5% pay rise last year as well as two additional bonuses worth over £2,000 on average.

“It is important that we have a fair and sustainable student finance system, which is why new borrowers will not repay more than they originally borrowed when adjusted for inflation, and graduates who earn less than the repayment threshold will not have to make any repayments. Any outstanding debt will be written off after 40 years.”

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