Published by BBC NEWS - 5th May 2022

Doctor next to a wall

Image source, CentralITAlliance – Getty

Some medical students in London say they are unable to prioritise their studies as they are having to work in part-time jobs to make ends meet.

The #LiveableNHSBursary campaign has begun on Twitter, with students sharing financial realities of studying and saying NHS bursaries are not enough.

One medical association representative said students were “forced to choose between eating or passing finals”.

The government said there were hardship grants for those struggling the most.

Trisha Suji is a third-year medical student in London and a representative of the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), a group supporting the #LiveableNHSBursary campaign and encouraging people to write to their local MPs.

Like other medical students, she has worked long hours to make ends meet.

Trisha Suji

Image source, Trisha Suji

“During the first year, in the Christmas holidays, I worked in a pharmacy warehouse almost every day,” Ms Suji said. “I left the holiday worn out and wholly unprepared for my January exams.”

She added: “Through the #LiveableNHSBursary campaign, I have read stories of medical students finishing their medical school day and going straight to work night shifts in various roles, before going to placement again entirely sleep deprived.

“I have also read stories of medical students taking out multiple credit cards and going into debt out of total desperation.

“They are forced to choose between eating or passing finals.

‘No-one has your back’

“London rent is simply unaffordable as a student for people like me,” Ms Suji added.

“I cannot afford to live close to campus, my parents cannot help me with my living costs – I have no safety net.

“No-one has your back.”

In their first four years of their studies, undergraduate medical students are entitled to the same amount as other students, which is currently up to £12,382 in London, if living away from home.

The NHS bursary provides eligible full-time undergraduate students with a non means-tested grant of £1,000 and a means-tested grant of up to £3,191 for those living in London in their fifth and sixth year of study, for the first 30 weeks of the year.

Those studying longer than this are entitled to an extra £108 per week in London if living away from home and £56 if living with parents.

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Medical students can also receive “a reduced maintenance loan” from Student Finance England in years five and six – in London, this is up to £3,354 if they are living away from home and up to £1,744 if living at home.

This means that medical students living away from home in the capital will see their income drop to a maximum of £8,625 per academic year in their final two years, when they spend most of their time on placement.

Medical student

Image source, The Good Brigade – Getty

The British Medical Association (BMA), a group which represents medical students, has accused the government of not doing enough.

Khadija Meghrawi, co-chair of the BMA medical students committee, said: “It is deeply worrying that students are facing financial hardship because the support they are given during their degree is not enough to pay for their basic needs.

“This is a failure from the government to provide enough funding.

“For years, we’ve heard instances of our fellow students using food banks, overburdened by debt and exhausted by working long hours alongside studying for a medicine degree full time.

“No student should have to choose between completing their degree and making ends meet.”

‘I miss out’

Medical students have more teaching time compared to the average student and can often find themselves working up to 40 hours a week when on placement, without pay.

The financial worries also lead to other issues for medical students, says Ms Suji, including the affect on their social lives.

“I miss out on meeting my friends,” she said.

Student in their dorm

Image source, MartinPrescott – Getty

“Constantly saying no to plans with friends because you simply cannot afford it is the most embarrassing and isolating thing.

“You need friends in medical school, you need that time to de-stress – learning to be in an emotionally challenging environment like a hospital alongside a heavy degree requires support networks.

“Having inadequate funding for living costs during those final clinical years means countless medical students are graduating already burnt out, before entering a depleted and deflated workforce.”

Ms Suji said the current system was failing students from lower-income backgrounds.

“I will be returning to the pharmacy warehouse I worked at in first year this summer holiday, and plan to work most days,” she explained.

“My other higher-income friends can use this summer to further their medical career – taking part in research projects and conferences.

“I will miss out.”

Student sitting by Tower Bridge

Image source, andresr – Getty

The DAUK has laid out the changes it would like to see implemented, including “immediate access to full maintenance loans” and travel and accommodation expense reimbursement brought in line with the rising cost of living.

It would also like to see medical students given access to the NHS Learning Support Fund, which is available to other healthcare students, allowing all medical students to receive a £5,000 non-means tested grant, rather than the current £1,000 they receive.

The Department of Health and Social Care said hardship grants were available and stressed that NHS bursaries, unlike regular student loans, do not need to be repaid.

A spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting medical students in England across all years of study and we are keeping funding arrangements for all healthcare students under review.”

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