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Student nurses who opted-in to a paid extended placement in response to the coronavirus pandemic will return to supernumerary status and continue in their programmes by the end of September, it has been confirmed.
A set of emergency standards, which saw 30,000 student nurses sign up to a paid clinical placement during the Covid-19 crisis, will be removed and replaced with a set of recovery standards on 30 September.
“The decision has now been taken to remove most of the emergency standards at the end of September”
The changes were given the green light today by the nursing regulator’s council during its latest meeting.
Emergency standards were introduced in March allowing second- and third-years to volunteer for a remunerated extended placement – giving up their right to supernumerary status to support the workforce during the pandemic.
While contracts varied between different trusts, most students would have signed up for six months, but concerns began to be raised at the end of June that paid placements were going to end earlier than expected.
It was subsequently confirmed by Health Education England that paid placements would end for all second-year students and most third-year students on 31 July.
Further concerns were then raised about those in their final six months of study, who still had placement hours to complete in order to allow them to join the Nursing and Midwifery Council register.
But it was clarified earlier this week that affected students would be “fully paid until the end of their employment contract offer” and that paid clinical placements could go on until 30 September to help them meet the NMC criteria.
The situation has moved forward again today, with the nursing regulator’s council approving proposals to withdraw the emergency standards, which introduced the paid placements.
As a result, the emergency standards will now be replaced with recovery standards that still “allow flexibility during the recovery phase” of the pandemic, said the NMC.
The move was proposed by Professor Geraldine Walters, executive director of professional practice at the NMC.
“We presented the standards to council in March, at the beginning of the emergency,” she said during the meeting.
“We have been meeting regularly with the same set of stakeholders over the course of the pandemic and the decision has now been taken to remove most of the emergency standards at the end of September.”
This autumn date was selected because “there may have been some students who were still needing to finish their programmes during the final year in September”, noted Professor Walters.
“We may be coming back to ask you to agree some other recovery standards in the future”
It was also apparent that “most universities would want to revert to the conventional regular standards at the beginning of the new academic year and there was a lot of consensus around that among stakeholders”, she said.
Professor Walters explained to the council that she was “suggesting we retain some standards to allow some flexibility during the recovery phase”, highlighting that these would be called recovery standards.
She added that the situation was still “uncertain” and “ongoing”, and so the NMC was “going to keep in close contact with our universities, in case they need any more recovery standards going forward”.
Universities would now be “challenged with issues like placement availability [and] with issues like social distancing within university facilities”, she noted.
“So, we may be coming back to ask you to agree some other recovery standards in the future if the situation requires that,” she told the council.
Members of the council discussed the flexibility around placements during the pandemic and the ability to deploy students to settings that they would not have usually gone to.
Professor Walters reassured them that the new standards would allow flexibility around placements to continue.
However, she noted that it was down to placement providers and education institutes to use that flexibility.
“I think by nature, we can sometimes be a sort of cautious profession and this has made us sort of step out of our comfort zone and use some of those other placements which the new education standards will allow,” she added.
Though the changes were approved without objections, discussions were had around students who did not opt-in to the clinical placement offer and whether they would finish their studies on time or not.
This was a concern raised to Nursing Times last month, when one second-year student nurse said he was “anxious” about what the ongoing crisis would mean for student nurses and their ability to finish their courses on time.
During the council meeting, Professor Walters said: “We hope that most of the students will be able to finish on time, but this whole last three months has not been without some problems and rifts.
“We hope our standards give universities flexibility in the best way possible”
She noted that there were some students who were unable to undertake extended placements and some who “may have fallen through the net”. “This was all done very quickly,” she added.
“What we hope our standards do is give universities flexibility in the best way possible to make sure that we can accommodate everybody, whatever their situation has been over the last three months,” said Professor Walters.
“But the standards at their heart were designed to ensure that as many students as possible would finish on time, and that Covid would not disrupt that timeline or as far as was possible.”
However, she said she felt issues of the last three months would be heard for “several months and maybe even years to come”.
Members of the council also wanted more engagement and communication with students to ensure they were recognised for their hard work and contribution during the crisis.