Two thirds of Scottish student nurses consider quitting due to financial pressures

Nurses doing rounds at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (Photo: Greg Macvean)
Nurses doing rounds at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (Photo: Greg Macvean)

Two-thirds of Scotland’s student nurses are considering quitting due to financial pressures, a new survey shows, amid calls for the Scottish Government to fix NHS Scotland’s staffing crisis.

An online survey of 1,046 Scottish nursing students, undertaken by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), found nearly all - 99 per cent - of would-be nurses are concerned about their finances.

According to the RCN’s report, the vast majority of respondents reported that financial concerns are affecting their health, with three-quarters saying this has had a high or very high impact on their mental health (74 per cent), and nearly half reported a high or very high impact on their physical health (48 per cent).

The survey, according to the RCN, “underlines” a new report from the UK’s Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) which shows racism, “poor support” for new nurses and “poor communication” are causing nurses to leave the profession, and in turn causing the quality of care to drop.

Andrea Sutcliffe, the NMC’s chief executive said “on the rare occasions that care goes wrong”, it is often due to “common factors” getting in the way of the “safe, effective and kind care people have a right to receive”.

“We’re shining a light on those factors, including further evidence of racism and discrimination,” said Ms Sutcliffe.

“We’ve spoken to some international recruits who have shared troubling stories about their formative months in UK practice.

“Supporting every professional to thrive is key to retention of staff, and to ensuring high-quality care for people.

“Meanwhile new starters across the professions aren’t always getting the standard of support they need to feel confident in their roles.

“And in maternity care, there are more signs that workplace cultures aren’t always supporting midwives to escalate concerns or communicate effectively with women and families.”

The RCN found nursing students are experiencing severe financial hardship. Nearly two-thirds have cut down on food (64 per cent), half have delayed paying bills (49 per cent), and 13 per cent have used a food bank in the last six months as steps to support themselves financially.

Financial concerns are also impacting on students’ relationships with family and friends, with nearly two-thirds reporting a “high or very high impact” (62 per cent).

Seven in ten have borrowed money from family and friends (70 per cent), and many students reported cost of living cutbacks affecting their children, families and themselves, and in addition, “becoming more isolated and experiencing hardship”.

Eileen McKenna, associate director of RCN Scotland, said their survey, along with the NMC’s latest report, “underlines many of the issues we’ve raised repeatedly”.

“Nurses at all stages of their nursing career journey need far better support to provide the quality of care they want to and continue in the profession,” said Ms McKenna.

“Our nursing students face serious financial hardship making them consider leaving their course, as our recently published report showed.

“The cost-of-living crisis, lack of opportunities to supplement their income and long delays in being reimbursed for expenses on clinical placements are creating a financial black hole.

“The Scottish government must boost the financial package for nursing students and establish a regular review of the level of support to make sure it rises in line with the cost of living.

“Internationally recruited nurses are invaluable to our health and care services, but their numbers are small in the context of our workforce crisis and the process of recruitment and induction is not speedy.

“Those who do want to come to nurse in Scotland must be properly supported through the specific challenges associated with coming to work in a new country, and not attracted to Scotland simply to fill gaps.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We absolutely value our nursing staff and have reached historically high NHS staffing as well as investing £1 billion over two years on NHS Agenda for Change Pay ensuring nurses and midwives in NHS Scotland continue to be the best paid in the UK.

“We have increased the non-means tested, non-repayable nursing, midwifery and paramedic student bursary to £10,000 - the highest in the UK. This is in addition to free tuition, placement expenses, uniforms, disclosure fees and health checks.

“We actively support health boards to plan locally for service needs and delivery and in the last 18 months have invested over £15 million in International Recruitment - resulting in the ethical recruitment of an additional 1,000 registered, mostly nursing staff, from overseas to bolster the workforce. Over the last 12 months, Nursing and Midwifery vacancies have reduced by 10.3%.”

“While national frameworks and guidelines on preceptorship can be useful, active preceptorship with a more experienced professional is invaluable for newly qualified nurses.

“We want to see the level of support available significantly improved.

“The NMC’s report provides more evidence why the Scottish government’s focus must be on efforts to stop our experienced staff leaving and making nursing an attractive and rewarding career choice.

“The Ministerial Nursing and Midwifery taskforce is the Cabinet Secretary’s opportunity to act, to tackle the nursing workforce crisis and to develop the sustainable nursing workforce Scotland needs.”

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, said the “damning” NMC report “must be an urgent wake-up call for SNP health secretary Michael Matheson”.

“His predecessors in the role – including Humza Yousaf and Nicola Sturgeon – have left our NHS facing a terrifying shortage of frontline nurses,” said Dr Gulhane.

“That is having a devastating impact on patient care despite the best efforts of the dedicated nurses we do have in our hospitals.

“It is little wonder that many potential nurses are being put off from joining the profession or dropping out of courses given the SNP’s repeated failures to address their concerns.

Michael Matheson must outline a real plan to make nursing an attractive profession as possible, otherwise our NHS will be overwhelmed even further.”

The Scottish Government was contacted for comment.