The Nursing and Midwifery Council has agreed new measures to enable nursing and midwifery students to continue their studies or help out with the coronavirus crisis.
The move will give universities more flexibility by relaxing current rules on the amount of theory and practice students must complete.
“This will also enable those students who wish to be involved in supporting this emergency situation to have more choices”
Last week the body announced that nursing and midwifery students in their final six months of training would be able to extend their final clinical placement from three to six months.
At the NMC Council meeting today members agreed other emergency measures designed to reassure nursing and midwifery students at all stages of training.
Current NMC rules state that nursing courses must be made up of 50% theory and 50% clinical practice.
Under the Emergency Education Programme Standards this weighting will be removed however courses must still comply with EU law, which states students must spend a minimum of 4,600 hours in training with a maximum of two thirds clinical work.
By waiving the 50:50 split the NMC said it was giving universities more flexibility to adapt courses to suit students and the needs of the health service.
The emergency standards will allow first year nursing and midwifery students – who may not be able to access clinical placements – to spend up to 100% of their time on theory or academic learning.
“This change recognises that during this emergency period, pressure on the health and care workforce mean that appropriate levels of supervision and support for safe and effective clinical placements for first year students may not be possible,” said a report to NMC Council.
“The new standards will allow the overall 50:50 split of theoretical and clinical hours to be made up over the remainder of the programme,” the report added.
First year students may volunteer or undertake paid work in clinical settings in their spare time but this will not be counted towards the practice hours required to complete their course.
All other nursing and midwifery students – and first year postgraduate diploma and masters students – will have the option of spending up to 80% of their time in paid clinical practice and 20% in academic study during the emergency period.
Time spent in clinical practice would count towards the practice hours students need to complete their programmes.
“This change will ensure that learning providers can continue to provide theoretical learning and provide students with the means of receiving ongoing learning and pastoral support in extended clinical placements,” said the report.
“This approach will support the contribution these students can make to expanding the workforce in this pandemic emergency,” it added.
In order for this to happen, the NMC said it may not be possible for students on clinical placement to have supernumerary status.
However, the body made it clear students must still get protected learning time and appropriate support and supervision.
The standards could also apply to nursing associate programmes. However, the NMC anticipated that many of these would be suspended with employers calling nursing associates back into practice during the emergency.
NMC chief executive and registrar Andrea Sutcliffe said students were keen to get clarity on how they could help with the Covid-19 emergency and how the current crisis might affect their studies and careers going forward.
“We’ve worked closely with our partners across health and social care to provide that clarity, making changes to our education requirements that will provide universities with more flexibility in how they run their courses,” she said.
“This will also enable those students who wish to be involved in supporting this emergency situation to have more choices in how they continue with their programmes,” she added.
From today she said the NMC would be sharing these plans with universities who would then take them forward at a local level.
The NMC Council also agreed to give an extension to universities and other education providers who had not yet had their courses approved against new standards for pre-registration nursing, and prescribing programmes.
According to the report to the NMC Council, 20 nursing programmes and 36 prescribing programmes have yet to gain approval, with a deadline of September this year.
The NMC has said it will extend the deadline by 12 months until September 2021.