The number of people applying to train as nurses and midwives in Sheffield has fallen by a quarter after the Government scrapped NHS bursaries, figures show.
Nursing leaders said the sudden slump revealed by the latest university application data was 'hardly surprising' given student nurses now face paying annual tuition fees of more than £9,000 and resulting in debts of £50,000.
Sheffield Hallam University, one of the main training centres for future city nurses, said applications fell by 24 per cent after NHS bursaries were replaced with loans.
But university bosses dismissed any sort of crisis and claimed their undergraduate nursing and midwifery course was 'over subscribed' despite the fall in applicants.
In the previous academic year, there were 4479 applications to the nursing and midwifery course but this fell to 3390. But a Sheffield Hallam spokesman said the course had six applicants for every one place. The course recruits students on two cohorts a year in March and September.
The figures from Sheffield Hallam mirror national statistics obtained by university application body UCAS.
Speaking to The Star, Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield said the Government's decision to scrap nursing bursaries was an 'extraordinary act of folly'.
He said: "It's closing down routes for successful careers and ultimately stops people from joining the NHS in Sheffield when we desperately need nurses and midwives - it's crazy.
"I've continued to challenge ministers on it and one of the debates I was involved in the minister said the new funding regime was 'so successful' for other courses, they wanted to roll it out across nursing, midwifery and allied medical professionals. I said I'm not quite sure they would see debt of £50,000 as a benefit.
"We do know in these areas they are a route for people who might not otherwise go into higher education and a route into prestigious and successful career slightly later in life."
Glenn Turp, Regional director for the Royal College of Nursing in Yorkshire and the Humber said: "It’s hardly a surprise that the removal of student bursaries has led to this drop in applications. This was one of the reasons that the RCN campaigned against getting rid of the bursary.
"The nursing workforce is under-resourced and under pressure, whilst nursing salaries have been effectively cut by 14 per cent in real terms since 2010. This is making nursing a less attractive career path to go into, especially when saddled with student debt."
In a survey carried out by the RCN, 89 per cent of 17,000 respondents said the changes would result in decreased numbers of student nurses and 80 per cent said the introduction of loans would have a negative impact on patient care.
Helen Best, deputy dean of Sheffield Hallam University’s Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, said: “Nursing and midwifery courses at Sheffield Hallam have always been very popular and that continues to be the case. In line with the national average, applications to these courses have fallen by 24 per cent compared to last year however, places at Sheffield Hallam are still oversubscribed with around six applications for every one place so we are able to maintain a high calibre of students.
“We also know that a lot of people tend to apply later on in the cycle and therefore we anticipate another high number of applications later in the year.
“We are very much aware of the concerns future nursing and midwifery students may have around funding. We have a dedicated team of staff who are on hand to provide advice and guidance.”
The University of Sheffield is due to start a undergraduate nursing course in September 2017 so they do not have any comparable data.
The Department of Health previously said replacing bursaries with loans will free up £800m a year to create extra nursing roles.
The news comes as a recent report showed staffing levels across Doncaster hospitals is a ‘major issue’.
Meetings have taken place to fill shifts due to the low levels of agency workers and steps are being taken to mirror other trusts in the county in order to adequately staff departments.
In report published to the latest board of directors meeting, chief operating officer David Purdue said: “Medical staffing continues to cause major issues with lack of agency staff for key shifts.
It described 'continuing pressures with internal waits in emergency departments due to the shortage' of medical staff.
He added: “This has been made worse by last minute cancellations of agency staff. Improved processes have been agreed.
Bed capacity has been an issue at DRI due to emergency demand. Flu has caused some issues with closed beds.
“Meetings have taken place to improve the process for filling shifts in line with the other Trusts in South Yorkshire.”
Non-executive director John Parker recently praised staff in Doncaster A&E at the meeting. He said: “I walked through it last week and it was horrendous. The staff were in high spirits and they are a credit to the hospital.”
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