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Fresh concerns have been raised that student nurses in England who have to delay completing their programmes due to the coronavirus pandemic may have to pay additional fees for the duration of their course extension.
It comes after the government told Nursing Times this week that it would ensure student nurses who may be forced to extend their studies would be supported financially – although at the time it did not clarify the nature of this support.
“There should be a principle of no financial detriment for students who have faced unavoidable delays”
Professor Brian Webster-Henderson
The outbreak of Covid-19 has caused significant disruption to nurse education with second- and third-year students choosing between paid clinical placements on the front line or a theory-only timetable.
In order to graduate, the Nursing and Midwifery Council requires students to complete 4,600 hours of training split equally between academic study and practice.
However, in wake of the pandemic, student nurses are worried about making up lost hours, with questions looming over whether they would have to pay for any additional study time.
This week the government said it would “ensure student nurses get the support they need to graduate, including access to financial support”.
But now concerns have arisen that students could be financially disadvantaged as a result of the pandemic.
The Council of Deans of Health has highlighted to Nursing Times that its current understanding is that final-year students who are delayed may have to pay additional fees on a pro-rata basis for the duration of the extension to their programme.
The council said that higher education institutions may take different approaches, especially as course extensions appeared to be much shorter than expected.
It added that those affected would be able to access student loans funding via a long programmes loan.
However, the council said it remained unclear whether these students could access the new maintenance grant being implemented by the government from September 2020.
From the council’s perspective, it believes final-year student nurses who need to return in the next academic year to complete their programmes should be given a pro-rata maintenance grant to support their living costs and that there should be no financial detriment for those who have faced unavoidable delays.
Council chair, Professor Brian Webster-Henderson told Nursing Times: “Any healthcare students unavoidably delayed in graduating will need financial support in the next academic year while they complete their studies.
“In England, we are calling for final-year students who need to return in the next academic year to be given a pro-rata maintenance grant to help support their living costs.
“There should be a principle of no financial detriment for students who have faced unavoidable delays in course progression.”
Nursing Times has contacted the Department of Health and Social Care for a response.