Nicola Sturgeon has reaffirmed promises to keep free tuition and bursaries for trainee midwives and nurses in Scotland, during a speech at a major nursing conference in Glasgow.
The First Minister also committed to investing in nursing through a £3 million grant to pay for 500 extra specialist nurses, as part of a £27 million boost to train more nurses and doctors announced earlier this year.
Plans to preserve the nursing bursary and provide a £1 million safety net for the poorest candidates were met with rapturous applause by an audience at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Congress in Glasgow today.
Ms Sturgeon described the UK Government’s move to scrap the bursary as “shamefully shortsighted” and offered a guarantee it would remain north of the border.
It comes amid widespread concerns over NHS staffing as nearly 9 out of 10 Scottish nurses told RCN Scotland that they felt the NHS could not cope with demand.
One in four GP practices reported at least one vacancy according to a survey by British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland published today.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Unlike the UK Government, we recognise the role and contribution of student nurses and the demands they face, and that is why I am confirming our commitment to retaining the nursing and midwifery bursary and free tuition fees in Scotland.
“Some students face particular hardship and that is why we already committed to launching a discretionary fund of at least £1 million for nursing and midwifery students to provide a safety net to help them continue their studies.
“And we are continuing to work with the RCN, and other nurse representatives, to listen to students about what’s important to them to inform how we can further improve nursing and midwifery student support in the future.”
Safe staffing levels will also be enshrined in law, with discussions beginning over the summer on putting health staffing on a statutory basis, Ms Sturgeon confirmed.
Nursing leaders welcomed this commitment but warned these moves would be “a paper exercise only” if health boards did not have enough money.
RCN Scotland Director Theresa Fyffe said: “As ever, however, the devil will be in the detail and we look forward to working with the Scottish Government over the coming months as their proposals become clearer.
“The tools do not currently address skill mix, that is, the ratio of registered nurses to support workers in clinical areas. This is crucial, as there is overwhelming evidence that having the right skill mix impacts patient care.
“But our overwhelming message to Government is that, without proper funding to make sure that health boards have enough money to employ enough staff to ensure safe staffing, these proposals will be a paper exercise only.”