UNISON calls for student paramedics to get bursary equal to nurses and midwives

UNISON Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to provide student paramedics with a bursary equal to nurses and midwives or risk a future shortage of paramedics.

The call comes following a change in the way paramedics are trained. From September this year, all new paramedics in Scotland will be required to complete a three-year degree. Previously there was an apprentice-style model of paid on-the-job training.

A recent survey by the Pay Student Paramedics Campaign showed more than eight in ten (83%) were experiencing burn out with more than half (57%) saying they were likely to leave their course due to financial pressures.

During the Holyrood elections, student paramedics received support from all the political parties. UNISON, together with the Pay Student Paramedics Campaign, is now calling on the Scottish Government for urgent action.

Tom Waterson, chair of UNISON Scotland’s Health Committee, said: “These students have secured cross-party political agreement that they should be provided with a bursary. This cannot be kicked into the long grass now that polls have been concluded.

“We want to see student paramedics receive a bursary equal to nurses and midwives or there is a very really risk there will be a future shortage of paramedics.”

UNISON Scottish ambulance branch steward and student mentor Gary Henry said: “Student paramedics are our future colleagues and it is vital they are given the best possible start to their careers, especially given the impact of the pandemic. That includes providing them with financial support but also a safe and inclusive environment to learn the profession.

“I look forward to engaging with the campaign organisers and supporting this important campaign on behalf of UNISON Scottish Ambulance Branch.”

Lisa Tainsh, of the Pay Student Paramedics Campaign and also a student paramedic, said: “Where there once was a pay-as-you-learn apprenticeship for paramedics, we now have three years of expensive education to pay for.

“Student paramedics are at a disadvantage when it comes to supporting studies with a part-time job in the traditional student employers such as retail and hospitality. You physically can’t finish a busy 8 – 12-hour frontline placement, witnessing traumatic events like death or serious injury, then go sit behind a shop till or bar with a smile on your face.

The placement work we do is work and should be paid. Our research clearly shows that financial pressure has paramedic students on the verge of choosing a different career.

The brutal reality is, that unless support such as a bursary (already given to student nurses) gets put in place, Scotland could be facing a critical shortage of paramedics. All the political parties gave us a commitment they would sort this out. Now it’s time for action.”

Notes to editors

• UNISON is Scotland’s largest health union.

• During the 2021 Holyrood election all the leaders of Scotland’s political parties gave their support for student paramedics to be given a bursary.

• From September 2021 all paramedics entering the profession in Scotland, will be required to have a BSc (three year) degree. This change in legislation means aspiring paramedics now need to go down the qualification route rather than the longstanding apprentice style model. This means that future paramedics have lost the financial security that came with the old model of fully paid on the job learning and training.

• Figures and associated stories from the Pay Student Paramedics Campaign have been complied into a report. https://www.paystudentparamedics.org/story/looming-crisis-among-student-paramedics


Danny Phillips, UNISON Scotland communications officer, on 07944 664 110