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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 June, 2005, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Nurses 'quitting to buy houses'
Two nurses examine a patient's case notes
Nursing leaders say staff need more help to afford property
Nurses are being forced to quit the profession because they cannot afford to buy homes, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.

The RCN says the government's scheme to help public sector workers get onto the property ladder has failed to help thousands in places like London.

The government says its initiative, the Key Worker Living scheme, has a limited allocation of funds.

But the RCN says more money should be put into the scheme.

It also wants to see it extended outside the south east to other areas where workers currently get no help.

The Key Worker Living scheme helps workers buy homes by offering them loans of up to 50,000, or shared ownership schemes.

It is open to other public sector workers, such as police officers and teachers, but excludes nurses employed outside the NHS in private and charity sectors, as well as overseas nurses in the UK on work permits.


In its first year, the scheme helped 653 nurses in the South East. So far this year, the scheme has received 25,000 applications, of which 5,197 are completed or are at an advanced stage.

But the government has revealed the scheme's money is almost fully committed in some areas after just two months.

Practically all my wages go on housing and transport to work
Laura Jeffrey, Neonatal staff nurse

The RCN says nurses frustrated at not being able to afford to buy homes are having to find better paid jobs or take on extra work.

"We've had examples where a senior nurse is talking about becoming a plumber because the wages are better and he can make sure that he has access to a home," said RCN general secretary Beverly Malone.

"When you are 42 and you still can't buy a home, or even get close to buying one, then you are in great trouble."

Claire Cannings, the RCN's welfare officer, said the scheme was "fantastic" for those it helped, but added that it could seem "divisive and extremely unfair" for those who were not eligible.

Existing property

Laura Jeffrey, a 23-year-old neonatal staff nurse at Leeds Royal Infirmary, is one of those not covered.

"It seems extremely unfair that I'm excluded from the scheme because I am not nursing in the South," she said.

"Practically all my wages go on housing and transport to work."

The government said the scheme was targeted at areas where it was hardest to recruit and retain staff.

It has also changed the scheme so key workers can apply to improve an existing property into a family home.

A spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which oversees the scheme, said: "People may have problems buying a property, but if they are not in an area where there is a recruitment and retention issue, the scheme does not operate.

"Staffing levels are monitored by the relevant departments, such as the Department of Health."

Should the government spend more on helping key workers buy homes? Are you a trained nurse who has had to relocate, find a better paid job or take on extra work to get on the property ladder?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received:

I am a trained nurse, as is my wife. We have had to fight tooth and nail to get a council house (indeed actually separating at one point) because we could not get any where near buying a house, even with the government scheme. If we had not got this house, we would have moved (as we were on the verge of doing so anyway) to Nottingham, as it was the only place we could afford to buy, and then only just. I have just been promoted to senior staff nurse, meaning a lot of the time I am responsible for up to 28 patients care, as well as staff. For this I get paid the grand sum of 19000 pa, when every day someone could die and its my responsibility. I think rather than come up with gimmick schemes for housing in the worst areas, the government would be better served paying nurses to reflect the job they do.
Graham, Harlow, Essex

Unaffordable housing is a bigger issue than simply for "key workers". I don't think taxpayers money is best spent on schemes which are essentially marginal in nature.
Phil Lucas, Derby

It's ridiculous that nurses who provide an essential service to the public are so undervalued that their wages do not allow them to buy homes. The government should help them as much as they can.
Stuart Forsyth, Hamilton, South Lanarkshire

I agree with Beverly Malone's observation- but perhaps the problem is a structural one. The inability of salaries to keep pace with house price inflation is more far-reaching than just the health sector, and affects many even in the North. Teachers, as well as other public sector workers are all similarly affected. Perhaps the problem would right itself with a house-price collapse-but how many would be worse-off then? Only the government can help, but this frankly is unlikely. There may be trouble ahead....
John Flanagan, Sunderland, UK

There are a great many people in the UK who cannot afford to buy a house. Why should the likes of nurses be given preferential treatment? As for the notion of "key workers", surely the likes of bin men and bus drivers are key workers? Should we subsidise them? How many workers in the UK are on minimum wages? Nurses are not on minimum wages are they? Also, how many nurses are married to the likes of policemen and firemen? Put another way, we should spotlight family income as opposed to individual income.
John Bowes, Greenock

I totally agree that more money should be made available not only to allow those in the NHS to buy homes but also help retain trained staff, What is the point of the NHS spending so much money on training only to lose it when staff leave for better paid jobs. Wages in the NHS are in need of a significant boost. I am sure we all agree those that give their lives in the service of others should be rewarded. Raise tax. Tax the richest, lets have a better healthcare for all.
Kingsley Knights, Guildford

Nurses get a generous bursary to study and get all their tuition fees paid. They then start off on quite a competitive graduate salary of over 18,000 a year. I think there's a lot of graduates much worse off in low paid work with debts of thousands from student loans. What nurses lack in immediate income they gain in job security.
Alex, Cambridge

Buying a house is not a right - on the continent there isn't the same pressure to be a home owner - the government should not be propping up the over-priced housing market in this way, but encouraging sensible renting and, probably, joint purchases. This is a complete nonsense of a scheme.
Robert Steadman, Matlock, United Kingdom

I'm a nurse here in the States who has been seriously thinking of moving to England. Of course, I'd seek work as a nurse, there, too. This makes me stop and think since I'm a single parent and the only income. I would say that a nurse is a key worker since hospitals can hardly run without us. I would not want to have to take a second job after working as hard as I do all day. One doesn't get all that training and obtain a license only to continue struggling to survive. There would be no point in working as a nurse if that were the case, unless you were already independently wealthy.
Christine Conway, NYC, USA

Why should these so called 'key sector' workers get assistance on buying a property? If they can't afford a property on their current salary, then they should find another job. This amounts to discrimination against millions of private sector workers who are just as important.
Paul Turnbull, Gateshead, Tyne & Wear

If it hadn't been for Thatcher in the 80's telling people that they should buy a house, there'd be plenty of cheap, rented accommodation available still probably. But no. People from key sectors are moving into yet more insurance and banking jobs, leaving the really important areas to suffer. I know a great deal of people would hate to hear this, but we NEED a property price crash. Its just getting silly.
David Rickard, Bucks

No. They should pay them more. If they cannot afford to pay them more then the numbers should reduce and the service should begin to fail, at that point the people will see they are not being paid enough and then accept that they have to pay more tax, or tax the rich more and then pay them more.
Shaun Maunder, Ipswich

Why is so much attention given to key workers? What about the rest of us who are in similarly paid work, independent and still unable to get on to the property ladder? We are just as important.
Caroline, Maidenhead, UK

Nurses in Cumbria are awaiting their historic victory for equal pay... 27,000 for staff nurses. because this was a UNISON and not an RCN victory the RCN naturally are trying to sell their agenda for change pay structure which will leave most nurses worse off, that is someone who has studied for 3 years, has a job that requires clinical judgement be it dispensing medication to cardiac arrest, to simply feeding and cleaning the infirm, to documenting all the above, will still be paid less than a fireman, policeman or teacher or even an NHS electrician, plumber, carpenter etc
Sonya, North East

I am a registered nurse in the US. The same issue occurs here where nurses are unable to purchase homes and their standard of living (and relative wages) has declined over the last 20 years - while physician and health administrators incomes have soared.

The real issue is that not only do nurses have little power over their professional situation (work hours, salary, benefits), they are undervalued by society at large.

It is important that society value nurses as much, if not more so, than physicians and managers. NOTHING the physicians do will help if an adequate number of well educated nurses is not available for assisting patients to achieve optimal health and wellness. NO business model will work to assure the health of individuals and society if nurses are not included as an integral and important component for planning and implementing the model.

Including nurses in the home buying policy is one step toward valuing nurses...but it is only a very time step toward the necessary imperative to elevate the value and status of nurses. Until that is done, nurses will be in short supply and hospital infections, medical errors, and chronic disease will continue to cost lives and astounding amounts of money.
Deborah A Sampson, Hancock USA

Hear the story of a nurse who cannot afford to buy a home

New 'cheap' home sites unveiled
25 May 05 |  UK Politics

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