NHS wants to take back my grant for paramedic training

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I am a first-year student paramedic, having to self-fund my studies because this is my second degree course. Last December, I was told I had been granted £6,166 from the NHS Learning Support Fund and received the first term’s payment of £1,300. I have since received an email from NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) saying that it has reassessed my application and that it has now been rejected. It is are now demanding that I repay the £1,300, which I can’t afford to do.
NS, Farnham, Surrey

You highlight what is, to my mind, a scandal. Paramedic students, unlike almost all other healthcare undergraduates, have been shut out of government funding, including student loans and NHS grants, if they are studying the subject as a second degree. This means that a graduate who wants to retrain as a nurse, dentist or midwife will receive financial support, but if they choose to become a paramedic they must find £27,750 in tuition fees and their living costs.

The reason, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), is because paramedic science was only granted degree status in 2018 and therefore missed out when, in 2017, funding reforms allowed other healthcare courses to qualify for student loans. Since it became compulsory last September for new paramedics to hold a BSc degree, that effectively bars all but the most affluent of mature students from the profession.

The NHS Learning Support Fund was introduced to help healthcare students through the lengthy unpaid placements they must do as part of training. However, the grant, which amounts to at least £5,000 a year, is only available to those receiving a student loan, and since pre-registered paramedic students don’t qualify for a loan, they miss out on the grant as well. Many paramedic students only discover that they are ineligible after they start their course, because the exemption is not made clear on most relevant government and NHS websites.

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I reported on this anomaly in March. You say you had previously begun a photography degree but abandoned it for personal reasons. Since then you have worked in hospitality on a modest income before deciding to retrain as a paramedic. The grant was a decisive factor, since the part-time job you juggle along with your studies and your placements only covers your rent.

Unfortunately, the fact that a previous degree disqualifies you from a loan, and therefore from the support fund, was not picked up when you applied for the latter.

All I’ve been able to do is to persuade NHSBSA to consider an affordable repayment plan for the money you have already been paid if you contact it. “We understand the confusion and frustration this situation may cause,” it said. “We undertake regular quality checks to review accounts and they will highlight any errors. This helps inform our ongoing training and improvement work to reduce any future errors.” The DHSC said that it was keeping funding arrangements under review but must balance the need to support students with value for money for tax payers.

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