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Student nurses who are part of a spring cohort will have to wait until the start of their next academic year to benefit from a new maintenance grant that is being introduced in September, it has emerged.
Those affected have told Nursing Times that they felt “let down” and “misled” over the matter, but the government insisted that it had made the arrangements clear from the get-go.
In December last year it was announced that a new £5,000 annual cost-of-living grant would be introduced from September 2020 for “all new and continuing degree-level nursing, midwifery and many allied health students” in England.
While most student nurses start their courses in September, some universities have an additional intake around February/March, which tends to attract more mature students.
The government has confirmed to Nursing Times that student nurses across all year groups who started in the spring time would have to wait until their next academic year for apply for the grant.
“It’s a bit of a kick in the teeth for people that have been working these couple of months in the NHS”
James Savage, a mental health nursing student at Liverpool John Moores University, is in his second year of studies and is part of a March cohort.
Under the government’s plans, Mr Savage will have to wait until March 2021 to get the grant and so will only have this financial support for his final year instead of for two years.
Mr Savage was one of many thousands of students who had opted-in for a paid Covid-19 placement, and so for him the news felt like “a kick in the teeth”.
“Anyone who starts in September 2020 will get the grant but because we have already started the academic year in March, we won’t get it,” he told Nursing Times.
“It’s a bit of a kick in the teeth for people that have been working these couple of months in the NHS.”
Students in Mr Savage’s cohort were under the impression that they would be eligible for the grant because the government had previously stated that the offer would apply to all those continuing their studies.
“I think statements from the prime minister were very misleading – particularly when they were saying new and continuing students,” he said.
“When they said in September new and continuing students would be getting it, most students in the spring intake thought continuing students meant them as well.”
Many students in this situation felt “let down” and “overlooked”, particularly those starting their third year in spring 2020 who would miss out on the grant completely, said Mr Savage.
Although students in the spring intake did not expect the full grant for the year, because the offer started in September, they assumed that they would get part of it, he noted.
Students will be paid termly for the training grant, the NHS Business Services Authority confirmed to Nursing Times.
“I think the assumption was that if we didn’t get the full grant for this year…we would get it from September,” he added.
“We did make clear when we announced it that the funding would be available from September”
“If it was coming in instalments, we would miss the first instalment – that’s what the assumption was among a lot of spring intake students and they are obviously very upset to find out that they won’t be getting it.”
Mr Savage, who is also a student ambassador at the Royal College of Nursing, said he was aware that several unions had asked for more clarity on this issue from the government.
“I know the unions have sought clarification, but it seems that the clarification has come in the form of ‘this is just how it is’ and certainly everyone does feel let down by the government,” he added.
Applications to spring courses are made directly to universities rather than through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
In May this year, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens appealed to universities to increase their annual intake of student nurses, and a suggestion was put forward for new intake in the spring.
However, the Council of Deans of Health, which acts as a voice for UK university faculties for nursing, midwifery and allied health professions, pointed out that a number of universities already offered nursing courses starting in the spring term.
Dr Katerina Kolyva, executive director of the organisation, said at the time that these courses “tend to attract mature students rather than school leavers who often prefer to start in September with students on other courses”.
The Department of Health and Social Care confirmed that any student nurse who started a new academic year between January and August 2020 would have to wait until the beginning of their next academic year to claim the grant.
A spokesperson told Nursing Times: “We did make clear when we announced it that the funding would be available from September.”