Enraged student nurses and midwives assembled in London, Manchester and Newcastle last Saturday in protest over Tory plans to axe their NHS bursaries. Joe Attard of the KCL Marxists reports from the London demo of this fightback against Tory austerity, which sets the stage for the walkout by junior doctors, planned for tomorrow.
Enraged student nurses and midwives assembled in London, Manchester and Newcastle last Saturday in protest over Tory plans to axe their NHS bursaries.
The NHS grants for nursing and midwifery students (amounting to around £6,500 a year, at most) is a slim but essential lifeline to thousands of aspiring medical workers. Under George Osborne’s spending review (announced in November last year), these bursaries will be replaced with loans, as will maintenance grants for students from low-income families.
Thousands of London-based student nurses and midwives, along with representatives from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Royal College of Midwives (RCM) expressed their outrage on a march from St. Thomas’ Hospital to Downing Street, chanting “bursaries or bust!” as passing motorists hooted their horns in support.
Since Osborne announced his toxic austerity attacks on student medics, over 150,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the government to retain the NHS bursary, which will be debated in parliament today, 11 January. The planned cut to student support has also been met with fury from the RCN and RCM, who were not consulted in advance of Osborne’s announcement.
RCM head of education and learning, Carmel Lloyd, said: “These government plans are appalling and will undoubtedly deter many committed and talented people from considering a career in midwifery. The RCM is extremely disappointed that the government did not seek advice or consult with us prior decision to making this.”
Lloyd also noted that the elimination of student grants will limit diversity in the nursing and midwifery professions, as working-class and mature applicants might be deterred:
“Currently, we have a diverse body of students who come from all walks of life,” she said. “Many are mature, not school leavers, who already have substantial caring and financial commitments. They will be particularly hit hard.”
Shadow health minister, Heidi Alexander, addressed students at the London rally on Saturday, stating that the Labour Party was on their side, before relaying the following message from party leader, Jeremy Corbyn:
“I admire our brilliant NHS staff and their work. We must keep nursing bursaries for the next generation so that nurses can qualify, help all of us and not be lost to the profession. Support for our NHS and the brilliant work that all the staff do will always be there from the Labour party.”
The fightback against Tory austerity by student nurses and midwives sets the stage for the walkout by junior doctors, planned for tomorrow, in which hospitals across Britain will run emergency services only. This historic action follows amendments to junior doctors’ contracts that will reduce wages, increase working hours and endanger the lives of patients.
Junior doctors joined student nurses and midwives on Saturday’s demo, offering their solidarity and support in the struggle against Tory attacks on the NHS, with Dr Yannis Gourtsoyannis of the BMA’s Junior Doctor Executive Committee correctly highlighting that, “Their fight is our fight—and our fight is their fight”.
It is unmistakable evidence of capitalism in crisis when, as Marx wrote, those previously considered “middle class” are pushed into the ranks of working class. The ‘proletarianisation’ of medical workers and other public services employees, under the pressure of unbearable exploitation, is a sign of the coming revolutionary movement that will unite all exploited layers of society against the capitalist system.