Food parcels for student nurses hit by computer error

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The Independent Online
HUNDREDS OF student nurses are struggling to feed and house themselves, with many forced to live on gifts or drop out of nursing altogether because of chaos at a new centre set up to administer NHS student grants.

For the first time, all NHS students are getting their bursaries from a central body, the NHS student grants unit in Blackpool, rather than through their university. Although the students started their courses seven weeks ago and should have received two payments of pounds 430 by now, many have not had a penny.

Faults with a new computer system, the sheer number of NHS bursaries to be handed out and administration problems have led to delays, the Department of Health said yesterday.

The average student nurse is 26 years old and many have mortgage or childcare commitments. A spokesperson for the Royal College of Nursing said the college was "very concerned" by the hold-up. "It seems to be affecting student nurses all over the country. Some are in a desperate state and the situation cannot go on."

In one student nurse class of 55 at the University College of Chester, seven have yet to receive any money. Lecturers at the university are so concerned that they brought in food parcels on Friday to tide over the nurses. Pauline Wright, 32, a student from Kidsgrove, Staffordshire, said: "Many of us have given up full-time jobs to train to become nurses. We are answering the Government's call to go into nursing and this how we are treated.

"It is a demanding course, and the stress of not being able to live properly is really affecting some of students who are living off their credit cards." She said the nurses were not eligible for student loans or hardship funds run by the National Union of Students, so they were left with no financial back-up.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that nearly all the 23,000 applications had now been processed and all students would receive their money by tomorrow: "Every possible action is being taken to ensure that initial payments are made as quickly as possible through fast-tracking of late applications."