After months of talks and propositions, UMAG (University Management Advisory Group) has finally decided to close Lancaster’s on campus Nurse Unit. The decision needs to be finalised through the Redundancy Committee and rubber stamped by Univeristy Council, but the service has in effect been terminated.
Over the summer, Lancaster University Students’ Union compiled an extensive report aiming to prevent the eventual closure of the facility. However, despite LUSU’s attempts, the decision has been made to terminate the service in order to cut costs.
Pete Macmillan, LUSU Vice President (Equality, Welfare and Diversity) was one of the leading contributors to this report.He said “the soon to be confirmed loss of the Nurse Unit is truly the end of an era. After nearly a decade of stellar service it is a real shame to lose such a valuable asset to what has become, for many, an essential and much appreciated aspect of their Lancaster experience”. He also deemed the closure of the facility as “reckless” and suggested that “academic excellence can only be achieved if the support services are in place”.
Tom Finnigan, Director of Student Based Services and the initiator of the facility’s closure, said: “The closure of the Nurse Unit was I believe the correct decision to take. It will allow reinvestment of resources into supporting mental health. The number of students attending the Counselling Service and the mental health adviser support this increasing trend in mental health issues impacting on student wellbeing and on their ability to cope with and/or to remain with their course”.
Macmillan commented on this, saying: “Although the reinvestment in mental health advisers is to be welcomed, the question needs to be asked of the University, what’s next on your list for cuts?”
Finnigan also claims that the dissolution of the Nurse Unit will result in easier access to GPs in the Lancaster area as the contract between GPs and the NHS has changed, as well as a 24 hour on-call service being in place. Finnigan has proposed that these changes have made GPs less reluctant to see students and that with these changes, the loss of the Nurse Unit will be less significant. In addition, NHS Direc, Finnigan said “is a 24 hour a day service, available 365 days a year which offers advice and support, and the Nurse Unit is currently duplicating that service”.
Fylde student Sarah-Jayne Littlewood disagrees with the support this service is able to offer. She said: “I was suffering with a severe kidney infection last year. I contacted NHS Direct and they said there was nothing they could do to help over the phone, and that I would have to go to Lancaster’s hospital. I will certainly miss the hands on support the Nurse Unit offers. Advice over the phone isn’t as personal or affective as the on campus facility.”
This also raises questions concerning on campus support for students, should an epidemic arise. In March 2009, there was an outbreak of mumps on campus. Within one week, eight students had been diagnosed with mumps, meaning students across campus had to be immunised with the MMR vaccine. It was the service offered by the Nurse Unit in quickly providing medication to students who had not had two doses of the MMR vaccine that prevented more students from contracting from the virus.
Robbie Pickles, LUSU President proposed that increased fees should indicate increased facilities. He said: “Rising rent costs and a potential rise in fees in the future will see students expecting campus to offer more services, not less. The closure of the Nurse Unit flies in the face of popular opinion and represents a sad loss to the campus environment”.
The Nurse Unit provided a confidential service to all students, visitors and staff on campus, since January 2001. The date for closure has not yet been determined, but in a final statement Macmillan suggested that “when the decision goes to University Council in November, Council members need to spare a moment to think of the number of lives that have either been changed or saved by the fine work of the Nurse Unit”.