Baroness Watkins calls for forgivable loans as nurses hit Parliament

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock wants to see nurses have their tuition fee loans wiped after no more than five years of working in health and social care services.

“I think that I would be looking to any new administration to seriously consider that”

Baroness Watkins 

She highlighted that a system like this already existed for some nurses in the armed forces.

“I think overarchingly my message is that I would like to see a structure that if you work in the public sector be it in health or social care, that after a period your student loan for your fees is paid off,” she said.

“I think that I would be looking to any new administration to seriously consider that.”

Baroness Watkins, a former nurse and emeritus professor of nursing, was speaking at an event she sponsored today at the Palace of Westminster on behalf of the Royal College of Nursing.

More than 50 nursing staff and nursing students attended to share their experiences with MPs and peers of working in an understaffed health and social care service.

They were met by more than 100 parliamentarians including health minister Stephen Hammond, shadow health and social care secretary Jon Ashworth, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, and apprenticeships minister Anne Milton.

The drop-in event was organised as part of the RCN’s campaign for legislation to support safe and effective nurse staffing in England and increased investment in nurse education following the removal of the bursary. 

Asked why she supported the event, Baroness Watkins, who is an RCN fellow and has been a member of the college since she was 18, said: “I believe that there is a whole issue about the right ratio of nursing staff for different types of care.

“A lot of the work that has been done is in hospital care, but I do believe that mental health care is equally as important and that you need the right ratio of nurses for example in the community mental health teams, also in prisons.

“I wanted to help raise awareness here today about not only the need for the right number of staff in the clinical area, but to encourage more people to come into the profession and to get the right support while people are either studying through the apprenticeship or the degree route.”

“The district nurses are having ridiculous amounts of visits a day”

Heather Stork 

Among those in attendance was community nurse Heather Stork, from Exeter, who said understaffing in her area meant nurses were having to adopt a task-based approach to care.

“Things are becoming task oriented,” she told Nursing Times.

“The district nurses are having ridiculous amounts of visits a day and they’ve got the pressure then to visit all those people and they’re not looking at people holistically. It’s a huge, huge issue.”

Meanwhile, second year student adult nurse Alison Stoneham, from Surrey, said short staffing meant she was often used to fill gaps during placement and missed out on learning opportunities.

Given that she will end her studies with a debt of £68,000 and had to put off her wedding as a result of financial constraints, mother-of-two Ms Stoneham said she believed she was owed better.

“Because we are paying for our education, we are paying quite a hefty amount for it, having low staffing affects me as a nurse because I don’t get the teaching time I’m now paying for.

“Quite often students and health care assistants are used to fill the gaps and that’s not good for the patient or for us.”

“I think that’s a more sensible approach than putting in hard and fast ratios”

Stephen Hammond

The RCN wants new laws introduced that would make government and NHS bosses explicitly accountable for ensuring health and social care services are safely staffed.

Asked if any change in law was on the horizon in line with the RCN’s demands, health minister Mr Hammond said he was considering the college’s campaign “very carefully”.

“I understand what the RCN are calling for which is not ratios but accountability and I think that’s a more sensible approach than putting in hard and fast ratios because in certain places, local clinicians and local NHS will have different views on what’s appropriate in different places,” he told Nursing Times. “So I am looking at what they are saying very carefully.”

The event came ahead of a debate due to be held tomorrow at Westminster Hall looking at the legal duties that are already in place on the government around NHS workforce and supply.

The debate will be led by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock and has been called by Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West and former nurse, Eleanor Smith.

Nursing Times understands the debate will focus on nursing and is connected with the RCN safe staffing campaign.

Patricia Marquis, director of RCN England, said: “Our campaign for safe staffing is hitting home in Parliament as MPs from all parties face the undeniable truth that unless we have more nursing staff, health and care services can’t be delivered safely and effectively, let alone reformed.

“This debate presents a great opportunity for ministers to signal clearly that they are ready to change the law so that staffing becomes not a political, but a practical issue based on clear evidence from the frontline.

“We’ll also be looking for further intent to restore proper investment in nurse education, making nursing a viable option for the new entrants the profession – and the public – so desperately needs.”

rcn parliament safe staffing

rcn parliament safe staffing

Source: SGB photography Ltd

RCN members take their safe staffing campaign to the Houses of Parliament