Press Release – 4 June 2020

Government refuses to cancel debt of covid-19 student nursing heroes

Sarah Owen is the Labour MP for Luton North, elected in December 2019 and serves on the Health and Social Care Select Committee

The government this week refused to cancel the debt of student nurses who have rearranged their studies and bravely joined the NHS frontline early in the effort to tackle coronavirus.

This comes in response to calls from over two months ago to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock from over 80 Labour MPs, led by the Luton North MP Sarah Owen, asking that the government puts their warm words of support for nurses into action and cancel their student debt.

In April, Health Education England announced that in response to the crisis 15,051 nursing and midwifery students had signed up to a paid placement, agreeing to rearrange their studies in response to the Health Secretary’s call for them to join the NHS frontline a few months before they originally expected to end their studies and qualify.

It was announced in May that the huge response to the government’s call from student nurses and midwives would mean that the temporary register created for the coronavirus pandemic, which shows who can practise as a nurse or midwife, will not be opening up to nursing students. Meanwhile, trade unions representing nurses also wrote to the government arguing for tuition fees to be dropped in light of the significant contribution by nursing and midwifery students. These students will still be liable for over £9,000 a year in tuition fees.

In a written response addressed to Sarah Owen, who serves on Parliament’s Health and Social Care Select Committee, the government refused to acknowledge or support the group of MPs earlier calls to “support these new nurses by cancelling the student debt they have incurred throughout their studies”.

This disappointing refusal follows unprecedented scenes outside homes across the country of the public applauding key workers, as well as health and social care staff who have been keeping public services and the NHS going throughout this ongoing crisis. Since March, the country has seen vast sections of the economy, business and infrastructure closed or services greatly reduced in attempts to slow the spread of covid-19.

Latest figures released show that there have been 279,856 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK and 39,728 people who tested positive for the virus have died.

Labour MP for Luton North Sarah Owen commented:

“It shouldn’t take a global pandemic for this government to take notice of the commitment that nurses and all NHS workers show, but I want Ministers to back up their warm words with real action.”

“The nation has been out on our doorsteps applauding doctors, nurses, porters, carers, and every other health care worker over the last few months because we want to see them rewarded properly. Right now, the government has the chance to turn people’s claps into action. That’s why I’m disappointed that they’re refusing to reward these fantastic student nurses who have stopped their studies and risked their lives to join our national effort to beat coronavirus.”

“No nurse or midwife should have massive student debt forced on them. They’ve put themselves in harms way – often without the right PPE, and receiving wages below what they deserve – to look after our loved ones and to try and beat this virus.”

“Even if those in power refuse to stand with the student nurses who have stepped forward during this pandemic, I’ll carry on doing whatever I can to speak up for the very people we’ve been applauding for.”