Last year I was ICSMSU Welfare Officer. I did a pretty decent job by all accounts, however I still had unfinished business when I came to the end of the year. That’s why I stood as ICU Deputy President (Welfare) on a manifesto which included continuing work on the frankly dire funding situation facing year 5 and 6 medics. I can now announce that I stuck to that mandate.
The whole campaign started 18 months ago in the ICSMSU Office in the Reynolds, reaching a sinking realisation that both Mike Schachter, senior tutor and I were seeing a worrying pattern of financial hardship almost entirely isolated to year 5 and 6.
I set to work trying to connect the dots. What was it about this group of people that was causing so many of them to reach financial crisis point? In classic student politics style, I did a survey. I’ve written before about how damning and shocking the results were. I pride myself on being a hard-as-nails Northern lass, but I confess, I was reduced to tears by some of the stories I read about in those survey results. The lengths students at ICSM and other London medical schools were going to just to make ends meet were heartbreaking.
It was clear that something had to be done; I would have had double the sleepless nights if I hadn’t taken action. I took the findings to ICU. Tom Wheeler, last year’s president spent months passing my report around and getting the issue to some of the highest boards and people in the College.
We started working on more ways to persuade the College to take action. I asked students to write letters to the College and they came in their droves. More heart breaking stories and visceral anger that this entire body of students had been quite simply left out in the cold. We gave names to the stories, I even published my own story of fifth year financial hardship in an open letter to the College. Finally the College took the issue seriously.
Don’t get me wrong, from the very beginning there were people in the College who were listening to me and cheering me on but were hitting walls of their own from above. This is where we have Gerry Greyling, Head of Student Financial Support to thank in earnest. He’s been on board from the word go and given invaluable support and encouragement throughout.
The time came to start talking about solutions. The obvious will always be to increase NHS Bursary and Student Loans Company funding. Let’s face it, with Mr Hunt giving the entire profession a brutal shafting that was never going to happen. Internal solutions were the only way at least that way I could help as many students as I could at Imperial.
Realistically, the damage had been done for a large number of older students at ICSM and it was unlikely that these students would be given any grants beyond the Student Support Fund for emergencies. Ultimately, the aim should be to provide adequate support and education to prevent students needing emergency funding in the first place. When there is an endemic problem with one specific group of students constantly accessing emergency funding, it's clear something somewhere has gone very wrong.
Since I took over as DPW this has been a slow and gradual crawl. I’ve been working with Maredudd Harris, ICSMSU President as well as senior members of the Faculty of Medicine to continually push for and negotiate a workable and impactful solution. It was a long, hard slog and If I’m being honest, before the final meeting I was convinced it was all over. I thought I’d never win this fight and I’d never secure any kind of funding support for year 5 and 6 medics at all. I didn’t go into my meeting on April 8 feeling all that optimistic; like the rest of the medical profession I was feeling pretty darn demoralised.
I can finally announce that on that Friday morning, 18 months on from that evening in the Reynolds, it was agreed that medical students from next academic year will have the option to spread their Imperial Bursary across their whole 6 year course, rather than just the first 4. Ultimately this means up to an extra £400 per month in the pocket of a 5th or final year medic. It’s also a prime example of the College working alongside student representatives to deliver what was necessary. We spoke, the College listened and proactively responded.
I know that although this is by far the biggest step forward so far, this campaign is nowhere near over. There are still students falling into the middle income bracket who aren’t eligible for these bursaries who need this campaign. Students at other medical schools who need this campaign. The last 18 months could be seen as a prologue.
This has coincided with an interesting period in the medical profession of mass political discontent and mobilisation across doctors and healthcare professionals. I used to think medics to be apolitical. I’ve been keeping my political beliefs to myself, thinking the rest of the medical school just wasn’t interested. I’m seriously proud to be part of this mass uprising and I sincerely hope that there will be students coming up wanting to carry on what I’ve started and campaign for fair funding of health education, something which I believe should be part and parcel of campaigning for safe and fair contracts for doctors.
Ranting and gushing aside, I’m ultimately writing this to let you know that you, the students of Imperial (and especially Imperial College School of Medicine) gave me a mandate and I stuck to it. It started in ICSMSU and it ended at ICU. Either way, I did what I promised I would do to the best of my ability; I will always be proud to be ICSM.
Watch this space for further details of the scheme.
This wouldn’t be a gushing victory post without a long line of thank yous:
Sky Yarlett (ICU staff) for teaching me how to make change, for helping me write that first report and for all the pep talks
Tom Wheeler (ICU President 2014/15) for making sure the stars were perfectly aligned when I started as DPW
Dariush Hassanzadeh-Baboli (ICSMSU President 2014/15) for giving me the confidence to even start
Mike Schachter (Senior Tutor Faculty of Medicine) for words of support and kindness when I was facing my own financial hardship
Martin Lupton (Head of Undergraduate Medicine) for being Martin Lupton
Gerry Greying (Head of Student Systems and Student Financial Support) for telling me it was possible
Maredudd Harris (ICSMSU President 2015/16) for fighting alongside me
Will, Eathar and Anisa for putting up with me