• £5,000 grant will be available to all new and continuing students from next year
  • Up to £3,000 extra available for some students
  • Confirms “urgent review” of pensions tax taper

All nursing students will receive a cost of living grant of at least £5,000 with up to £3,000 extra available for regions or specialisms “struggling to recruit”, the government has announced.

The “new, universal offer” will be available to all “new and continuing degree-level nursing, midwifery and allied health students, starting from September 2020”, 10 Downing Street has confirmed.

The standard £5,000 grant will not need to be paid back and up to £3,000 further funding is available for specialties that struggle to recruit, including mental health.

The additional funding will also be available to students as childcare allowance, and in areas of England that have seen a decrease in people accepted onto courses.

The government is, however, retaining fees for nursing courses. The move, therefore, represents a partial but not total U-turn on the last government’s decision in 2015 to introduce course fees and scrap the nursing bursary.

Under the government’s proposal, students can continue to access tuition and maintenance loans from the Student Loan Company and the new grant will supplement existing support available to pre-registration undergraduate and post-graduate nursing students from the Department of Health and Social Care, including travel and accommodation costs for clinical placements, the government said.

The previous government was for several months considering action to give extra financial support for nurses in training to try to boost applications, including looking at a cost of living grant, but also at debt cancellation. It appears the latter option has been dropped for now as it does not feature in the government’s announcement today. 

NHS England has been pressing for a rapid confirmation following the election of new bursary policy — which both main parties had proposed to change — in time for the UCAS application deadline in January.

In 2015, then chancellor George Osborne scrapped the previous bursary system, under which students’ fees were also paid for them, and switched funding to student loans as part of reforms which, at the time, government said would remove an “artificial cap” on student numbers and potentially increase student numbers. This has widely been judged a failure by NHS leaders, as it has failed to attract students.

Mark Radford, chief nurse at Health Education England and deputy chief nurse for England, said this was one of the “key interventions we will be taking alongside retention, course attrition, return to practice for the People Plan”.

“We also need to do more to highlight the attractiveness and flexibility of nursing and midwifery careers that will in turn deliver safe and effective care to patients,” Professor Radford said.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “At the heart of our manifesto was the guarantee that we will deliver 50,000 more nurses, and this new financial support package is a crucial part of delivering this.”

The pledge caused controversy during the election campaign as the Conservatives confirmed that 18,000 of the net 50,000 increase constituted a planned reduction in leavers, rather than new recruits. HSJ also revealed last month that NHS workforce modelling indicated around 10,000 of its own planned growth in nurse staffing was linked to growth in nursing associates, rather than registered nurses. 

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “We want every person considering this incredible career to apply for their university place before the UCAS deadline of 15 January, safe in the knowledge they will benefit from this financial support from the start of the next academic year.”

Mr Hancock also announced today that government was “urgently reviewing” the pensions tax taper problem, which has added to the staffing crisis with senior clinicians turning down extra shifts.

An announcement said: “As part of a wider drive to ensure the NHS continues to have the staff it needs to meet demand and transform care, the government has confirmed today that it is taking forward its commitment to carry out an urgent review of the pensions annual allowance taper problem that has caused some doctors to turn down extra shifts for fear of high tax bills.”