Background to the Bursary.

In 2016 The British Government announced it was going to be scrapping the existing bursaries for Nurses, Midwives and the like. This was a move which concerned and outraged many thousands of people across the country. Given the country wide shortage of Nurses, Midwives and other medical professionals this move was seen as one which would only make the staffing shortages even worse and further damage our beloved NHS. In an online post Julia Charlton (UCU branch chair at Northumbria University, Northern Regional Secretary and NEC member) very effectively summed up the decision by stating the following:

The best asset of the NHS is its workforce. The best way to make the most of this asset is to invest in the future workforce. By scrapping the NHS bursary and uncoupling workforce planning from education commissioning the Government are taking a risk with the future of patient safety and care delivery, and exacerbating the current recruitment crisis.
(22/01/16, 1)

The Scottish Government, showing their excellent understanding of just how important our NHS and future NHS staff are, agreed that removing this bursary was a bad idea and made this publicly very clear only a few weeks later. On a visit to Queen Margaret University in Musselborough, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stated the following:

“We’ve already invested heavily in the health and care workforce in the last nine years. But we need to build on that success... That’s why we will step up our support for nurses and midwives... The Scottish government is completely committed to retaining a nursing and midwifery bursary."
“We recognise the demands on those students, and we understand the importance of their role. So to make sure that we are well placed to attract the best young people – from all backgrounds – into the workforce, I am making a clear commitment today that we will retain free tuition and a nursing and midwifery bursary in Scotland”

(10/02/16, 2)

It was a cause for celebration and relief for many that the Scottish Government understood the importance of this bursary.

How has the bursary grown since 2016?

A few years later, The Scottish Government again proved to our country how much they valued and cared for the future of our NHS. They announced that they would be increasing this bursary from the limit of £6,578 per year, where it had stood since 2009, to £10,000 by 2020 using a 3 step increase plan. In a public statement made in 2018 Nicola Sturgeon announced the plans stating that:

We know the value of our NHS staff and we know the value of our Health Service. This extra funding will help make studying nursing or midwifery easier for those who want a career in our health service... Dedicated staff are crucial to our NHS and it is vital that we help support the nurses and midwives of the future during their training.
(09/10/18, 3)

Many were delighted by this announcement as it meant that student Nurses and Midwives would be receiving the kind of amazing support that they deserved on their journey to join the ranks of our NHS heroes. Theresa Fyffe, director of the Royal College of Nursing had this to say:

The increased bursary is an important step in valuing those who choose to nurse and in making nursing an attractive career... All of the nursing students who will benefit from this new bursary will enter the profession with one aim – to provide safe, high quality care for each and every one of their patients.
(09/10/18, 4)

Why was the bursary not only kept, but increased?

The decision was made because it was apparent that the bursary could provide a solution to the major issue of understaffing affecting the NHS due to a rather simple hypotheses:

  1. There is a shortage of nurses and midwives in Scotland.
  2. Due to placements being of long hours and unpaid, student nurses and midwives often struggled financially.
  3. In order to resolve the understaffing issues, the path to becoming qualified must be made as welcoming and as supportive as possible to potential recruits.
  4. Having a bursary significantly reduces the financial burden and potentially allows far more people to be able to afford to become nurses and midwives.
  5. With this support, far more people will be drawn to the idea of becoming a nurse or midwife as it is more appealing since it will no longer carry a financial burden.
  6. This will help increase the numbers of new nurses and midwives joining the NHS and will help to safeguard the future of the NHS for the people of Scotland.

Pretty simple really. In fact it is as close to a common sense approach as one can get. The Scottish Government saw this themselves and because it was such a good idea they implemented it for the benefit of the entire country for decades to come. My sincere thanks goes to the Scottish Government for this success and its massive benefit to our NHS. The Nursing and Midwifery Bursary is without a shadow of a doubt a resounding triumph of educational policy and an example to the rest of the world of how things should be done.

So what does this have to do with Paramedic Science Students?

Simply put, Student Paramedics find themselves and their future career path in an almost identical situation as those who study nursing. The big difference is that the paramedic science degree is relatively new, with 5 universities in Scotland offering the degree from 2020 onwards, and only 1 offering it previously. The path to become a paramedic used to be through training with the Scottish ambulance service themselves, which included a salary. Now, the decision has been made to move away from this. Soon paramedics will qualify solely through obtaining a degree. This means that qualified ambulance technicians, who have already proven their worth among the ranks of our NHS heroes time and time again, who want to become paramedics, will soon have to give up their salary to go back to university and potentially live off of loans or little to no income at all. Is this any way to treat our heroes? Here are some examples of the similarities:

  • There is a shortage of Paramedics in Scotland.
  • Due to placements being equal weighting to that of nurses (50%) of being long hours and unpaid, student paramedics will also face the same financial struggles.
  • This means that the limited support available (as even with a repayable loan they still do not receive as much as the bursary offers) makes the path to becoming a paramedic less appealing.
  • With a bursary, far more people will be drawn to the idea of becoming a paramedic, as it is more appealing since it will not carry a financial burden.
  • This will help increase the numbers of new paramedics joining the NHS and will help to safeguard the future of the NHS for the people of Scotland.

So the real question to ask is: Why wouldn't the Scottish Government either create a new bursary for student paramedics, or to make it even more simple, add paramedic science into the existing bursary?

The author of this story would like to invite our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who he personally holds in high regard, to be reminded of what she said back in 2018 with regards to the importance of helping fix the problem of understaffing in the NHS:

In Scotland, we retained the bursary, but recruitment is a big challenge. And it will get even bigger as Brexit bites... So we need to attract more people into nursing.
(09/10/18, 4)

The author invites her to think about just how true this is, and how it also applies to our ambulance service, and our need for more paramedics as well.

Finally the author would like to express his thanks and gratitude to all of Scotland’s NHS and front line workers. You have braved and continue to brave the dangers of this pandemic and have made sacrifices in some cases that nobody should have to make. You have been doing this in order to fight this virus and to protect, care for and save the lives of the many people affected by it, along with everything else that you do day in day out for this country and its people. I can think of no higher honour than to one day join your ranks and continue to learn from you all after completing my studies. You have my everlasting love and respect for all that you do.

Thank you NHS Scotland.


  1. UCU Agenda Website
  2. Nursing Times Website
  3. Scottish Government Website
  4. Nursing in Practice Website