Debt threat for physio workforce

Changes to students loans could have significant implications for both individuals and for the future of the physio workforce

Student Finance

During the last few weeks university graduation ceremonies have been taking place and CSP student members have been celebrating their hard-earned achievements with family and friends. 

Back in May Frontline reported on the CSP’s strong opposition to changes to repayment requirements for student loans in England, which will mean most graduates paying more for longer. 

The government plans to lower the salary threshold at which students start paying back loans to £25,000, extend the repayment period from 30 to 40 years and change from interest linked to average earnings to the (currently faster rising) Retail Price Index (RPI) rate plus three per cent. 

6.7% of NHS physios leave the NHS and half of these within the first five years

The Institute for Fiscal Studies have estimated that when new borrowers graduate to professions with low to middle earnings – such as physiotherapy – they will be hit most by the changes, paying back around £30,000 more under the new system. 

‘An unfair burden on students’ 

Existing borrowers who started their courses between 2012 and 2022 will also be hit – anticipated to pay back an additional £20,000 in loan repayments. This contrasts with the highest-earning graduates who can expect to repay around £20,000 less as a result of the lower interest rate.

Rachel Newton, CSP head of policy said:

Essentially student loan repayments have operated as a graduate tax, and this is a tax rise which many physios will be paying for most of their working life. 

‘As well as being an unfair burden on students and graduates, the worry is that this will put off those who don’t have parents willing and able to help them financially.’ 

‘As well as being a matter of social justice, evidence shows that a diverse healthcare workforce, with a diverse leadership at all levels, provides a better health service for the public, reducing health inequity.’

Reena Patel, CSP education adviser added that: ‘The brilliant news is that the physio workforce is changing, with the current student population guaranteeing that the next generation of physiotherapists is significantly more diverse than any previous generation. 

‘But changes to student loan repayments threaten to undermine this trend for the future, putting off the very people who should be encouraged into the profession, and provided with more routes to do this.’ 

Stark workforce implications

The NHS in England already has a difficulty retaining physiotherapists – even more than it does nurses – with physios having many employment options open to them. 6.7 per cent of NHS physios leave the NHS and half of these within the first five years of their career. These physios are not leaving the register, so it’s reasonable o assume many leave in the hope of better pay and opportunities to progress. 

Commenting on this, Ms Newton said: ‘The burden of paying more for longer for student loans could accelerate this, just at the time when the NHS needs physios more than ever to meet population need.’ 

Kristen Potter-Price, CSP student officer said:

We are already hearing from students who are unable to keep up with payments due to the cost of living crisis with no increase in maintenance support. 

‘As well as usual living expenses, physiotherapy students face additional upfront costs for mandatory vaccines and increasingly expensive travel and accommodation to allow them to complete their placements. 

‘The students coming forward are usually those who are already making enormous personal and financial sacrifices and whose talent and experience are needed to deliver high quality healthcare.’

Daisy Goodhall, CSP student officer added: ‘The CSP will always stand up for students. Our opposition to the government’s planned changes to student loans is loud and clear. 

‘The CSP is specifically calling for exemptions to the new rules to ease the pressure on students and the healthcare system and are submitting a motion to the forthcoming TUC Congress on this issue.’ 

While the government is bringing in the changes to student loans without any consultation, they have been required to consult on further changes, which could see caps on student numbers and replacing student loans with a life-long learning entitlement. See our responses to these:


    Number of subscribers: 1

    Log in to comment and read comments that have been added