We had an overwhelming response to our recent student-finance survey, and this has helped us to better understand the challenges faced by medical students in Wales. Your views have also helped us to recognise the limitations of the NHS bursary and the effect of financial hardships on your studies and well-being.
What the data showed
The survey hosted by BMA Cymru Wales, showed more than 90% of participants rely on tuition fees and maintenance loans to be able to support their studies.
42% of respondents said they rely on financial support from parents and 78% on personal savings, demonstrating the significant struggle for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
A significant amount of respondents (50%) already had outstanding debt from student loans from previous degrees adding to insurmountable levels of debt, 18% relied on grants and 10% alarmingly rely on credit cards to fund their studies.
NHS bursary data
Only 60% of the 100+ respondents claimed they were eligible for the NHS Bursary in Wales, with 81% of those accessing the bursary stating they receive less financial support since receiving their bursary, and 93% reporting that this had caused further financial difficulty.
The cost of placements
Adding to an already overwhelming list of fees and costs, 66% of survey participants said the travel costs incurred by placements had not yet been reimbursed, with some suggesting the process to claim back their own money was just too lengthy and overly bureaucratic.
Effect on well-being and studies
Worryingly, 30% of respondents said their financial situation had a negative effect on their mental health. A third (31%) of all respondents reported having contacted student services for assistance, with half of those having then gone on to seek sought hardship support.
To help to get on top of rising living costs, 78% of respondents said they have taken part in part-time work – with most working between nine and 17 hours per week in term time on top of their studies just to support themselves financially.
Sadly, 86% of participants reported being under a greater level of financial pressure than they had expected prior to starting their studies – a concerning figure when you consider the rising need for doctors in Wales.
What are we doing?
We recently presented the survey’s findings to Welsh Government officials as part of a roundtable meeting which we had called for. Thanks to the data and testimonies provided by medical students in Wales they have acknowledged that the NHS bursary does not provide appropriate support to medical students during their studies in Wales, especially since the cost-of-living crisis.
As a result of this meeting, they have agreed to review this. They noted the system does not support their equality agenda, particularly with its significant effect on students with dependents, and this is something they have indicated they want to look to swiftly reform.
They explained they may not be able to increase the overall NHS bursary amount without the UK Government doing similar and therefore providing them with additional funding. Within those constraints, however, they have said they will aim to work with us to find innovative ways of using available budgets to assist those in receipt of the bursary.
Following our roundtable meeting, Welsh Government will be holding consultation events on the NHS Bursary in person and online and have already called for medical students to take part in it.
The consultation is open to all student BMA members across Wales, and we would encourage everyone who can participate to demonstrate strength in numbers. By feeding in more of your experiences, you can help ensure Welsh Government takes the right steps to change the NHS Bursary.
What is next and what are we calling for
The Welsh Government has agreed to sustain an open dialogue with us to ensure we work together to improve the NHS bursary, and to find other ways to provide more financial support for medical students in Wales.
We are now developing a brief for Welsh Government and members of the Senedd. This details the survey findings as well as proposals to tackle the financial hardships. These include developing a mechanism for ensuring that the bursary keeps pace annually with rises in the cost of living.
We are also calling on the Welsh Government to make any developments to the bursary more transparent, including information comparing the individual benefits of the NHS bursary to that of a general student loan.
While some emails have already gone out with details on how to register to take part in the consultation, please also look out for another email coming soon which will again detail how to register to take part in the next NHS bursary consultation meeting. You can also follow us on social media to find out more about what we are doing to improve financial support for medical students in Wales.
Craig Heath is the BMA Welsh medical students committee chair and a final year GEM student at Swansea medical school