Tuesday, January 26, 1999 Published at 16:42 GMT
Government crackdown on uniform charges
Physiotherapy students should not have to pay for their uniforms
The government is promising a crackdown on universities which charge health care students for their uniforms.
But universities warn that the move will have much wider resource implications.
The Department of Health is planning to drive home the message that the block grant given to universities which train health care students, such as nurses and physiotherapists, includes payment for uniforms.
The move follows reports earlier this week that managers at Kingston-upon-Thames University in Surrey were planning to ask nursing students to fork out the £100 for their uniforms from their £5,300 bursaries.
Health Secretary Frank Dobson stepped into the row after nursing leaders complained the proposal gave the wrong message at a time of nursing shortages.
He said the university received £8m to train nurses and this included the cost of uniforms.
His intervention forced the university to do a U-turn.
However, the case prompted physiotherapists to complain about "a glaring anomaly" which meant their students were having to fork out for uniforms when physiotherapy is also facing a recruitment crisis.
Kingston had justified the charges for nursing students by saying other students, including physiotherapy students, had to pay for their uniforms.
Following Mr Dobson's intervention, it has decided not to charge any health trainees for their uniforms.
Trevor Thorne, head of marketing and public relations, said: "The reason we took the decision to charge for nurses uniforms in the first place was to create equity across the faculty because radiography and physiotherapy students are charged.
"So in order to maintain equity we will not be charging any health care students for uniforms in the future."
However, he warned that the government's move would have resource implications which would form the basis of discussions in the future.
"This opens a very large debate. Should art students not have to pay for paint and paper? Should science students not pay for their lab coats?" he asked.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) says the policy of charging trainee physiotherapists the £100 for their uniforms is widespread.
A spokeswoman said: "Universities up and down the country have been charging for uniforms.
"If the Department of Health is saying that they should not be doing so, we would welcome explicit guidance about it."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "The government will be reinforcing the message that these charges are not sanctioned by the contract given to the establishments."