HL Deb 12 November 1997 vol 583 cc150-2

3.3 p.m.

Lord Ewing of Kirkfordasked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether student nurses enrolled at colleges of nursing attached to a university will be required to pay student fees under their proposals to charge such fees.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, the simple answer to my noble friend is "No". On 23rd September, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health announced changes to the funding arrangements for healthcare professional student funding in England from September 1998. The new arrangements mean that nurses and midwives will not be required to make a contribution to tuition fees and will have access to NHS bursaries. Similar arrangements have been announced for healthcare professional students in Scotland, and it is hoped that the same will apply to students in Wales and Northern Ireland where negotiations still continue.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, I now understand the enthusiasm and keenness of my noble friend to answer the Question even almost before it was asked. Will my noble friend accept my warm and sincere thanks for that unqualified assurance that nurses and those allied to medicine will be exempt from those tuition fees?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his thanks and also for noticing my rapidness in reply.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are academic nursing courses such as the B.Sc nursing course run by the Anglia Polytechnic University which has been funded hitherto through the normal academic route as opposed to the health service route? The continuation of those courses will depend upon adequate funding being transferred from the DfEE to the Department of Health. It will then depend on that being distributed to the health trusts and the health trusts continuing to back those courses by supplying students for them. Will the Minister assure the House that all those transfers will take place and adequate support for those very important courses will continue?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am happy to give that assurance. I am afraid that I cannot comment on the specific course to which the noble Lord referred. However, the detailed discussions during the summer between the Department for Education and Employment and the Department of Health resulted in those precise arrangements being put in place.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that her attitude will be greatly welcomed by the nursing profession? Thank goodness that proposal is not to be carried out because it could have damaged the morale of nurses and, much more serious, could have had a deleterious effect on our entire National Health Service. Such issues sometimes grow and grow and get out of hand. I congratulate my noble friend on her direct answer which indicates that that will not be allowed to take place.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. It was precisely because of the potential threat to the adequate level of skilled employees—nurses and other professions supplementary to medicine—that the department was extremely keen to ensure that those arrangements were made for transferring the funding. I am glad that we succeeded.

Earl Howe

My Lords, following on what the Minister said, does she agree with me—I am sure she does—that recruitment and retention of nurses are vital to the wellbeing of the NHS? Given that nurses on diploma courses are not eligible for the various loans and benefit which nurse degree students will be able to apply for as from next September, does she not agree also that the impact of that two-tier treatment needs to be reviewed regularly, perhaps annually, to ensure that it does not have an adverse impact on recruitment and retention?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, those nurses in training who are subject to the diploma arrangements, who remain a majority of those student nurses not on higher education courses, remain in the care, as it were, of the NHS for funding. The NHS has always met their tuition costs and provides them with non-means tested bursaries which will continue.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. But may we be quite clear as to what is being said? Nurses undertaking courses in universities will not, as I understand it, be required to pay student fees. I accept entirely the case for that. But will that apply to those taking, for example, B.Ed courses, because there is, of course, also a shortage of teachers; or do medical students have something which other students have been unable to achieve?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I hesitate to answer a question which I believe should be directed more properly to my colleagues at the Department for Education and Employment who have responsibility for teacher training. As I said in answer to my noble friend Lord Molloy, it was our great concern about the potential threat to NHS employment which enabled my right honourable friend to discuss that matter so profitably with his colleague in the Department for Education and Employment.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, bearing in mind this Government's abhorrence of a two-tier service within the NHS, will the Minister state whether she supports an all-degree nursing profession?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the present arrangements seem to work quite well. As I said in reply to the previous question, there are still many more nurses who wish to follow the diploma rather than the degree course. I am glad to say that since there is no discrepancy in the way they are funded, I hope that they will be able to work together very well.