Student nurses who took up the offer to join the frontline response to Covid-19 have finally been offered some clarity about their futures, after tensions on the matter started to reach boiling point.
Professor Mark Radford, pictured above, chief nurse at Health Education England, has spoken out following reports that students who had answered the government’s call for help were now being “cast aside”.
Almost 30,000 student nurses have been deployed into paid placements since April, giving up their right to supernumerary status in order to support the workforce during the coronavirus pandemic.
While contracts varied between different trusts, most students would have signed up for six months.
However, it has now been confirmed that paid placements will end for all second year students and most third year students on 31 July.
The professional bodies and unions involved in the discussions said in their joint statements released at the start of the crisis that the arrangements would be kept under review.
However, the information did not filter down to all students, with many giving up paid employment to take on a placement on the assumption that they would have a guaranteed income for six months.
Student nurses have this week taken to social media to vent their anger. One wrote: “Some of us left jobs for this. Many of us have children and families to care for.
“All of us will come out with a debt succeeding £30,000 for doing a degree we have such passion for.”
With anxiety among student nurses rising, pressure has mounted on national bodies to provide answers, with Labour shadow health minister Justin Madders today joining the debate.
He said: “Student nurses up and down the country have cut their studies short, and in some cases left other jobs, to go and work on the frontline as part of the national effort to combat coronavirus.
“Their personal commitment should be recognised and reciprocated by the government. They do not deserve to be cast aside like this, and ministers must explain exactly what is happening.”
Mike Adams, the director for England at the Royal College of Nursing, also called upon HEE and fellow national body NHS England to “offer some clarity for students about the way forward”.
This afternoon, Professor Radford sought to provide clarity on the situation via a statement, in which he said that it was “absolutely untrue to suggest that student nurses and midwives are being made redundant”.
He confirmed that third-year students in placements would be paid until 31 July and if they had met the requirements to qualify as a registered nurse they would be able to do so.
Any third-year student with additional placements hours to complete would continue to be paid under the coronavirus placement scheme until September to allow them to do this.
Second-year students on an emergency placement would be paid until 31 July and after “normal non-paid placements will be re-introduced along with year one students”.
“We committed at the outset of the pandemic to ensure that these students complete their training and are able to qualify,” added Professor Radford.
“It was always made clear to students who opted into paid placements the arrangements would need to come to an end at an appropriate point, so that students could return to their supernumerary status to complete their registered nursing qualifications as quickly as possible to permanently enter the NHS workforce.”
Jessica Sainsbury, chair of the RCN’s student committee, told Nursing Times that students had not been consulted on the 31 July end date.
She said: “As a committee, we have known about this 31 July date for a couple of weeks now but as a committee we haven’t been consulted on it.
“We haven’t been asked to give them the views of students, and it really feels this decisions is being made about us, without us.
“Before, it felt very much like they were consulting with us properly, they were listening to what they had to say. Whereas now, it feels like they are like ‘this is what is happening’.”
She added that, while it had been made clear by the national bodies that the arrangements were temporary, many students “thought this was the deal for six months”.
“People have mortgages and rent to pay,” she said. “It is quite distressing, particularly because there’s not a lot of the bank shifts in hospitals and stuff at the moment, and that was a source of income for many students before and that’s not available at the moment.”
She said the RCN committee was supportive of reinstating normal learning as soon as possible, but there were conditions for doing so that it wanted to see and that had not yet been yet.
One was that the wording of the government’s coronavirus death in service scheme needed to be altered to include students on unpaid placements – it currently only covers students being paid.
The second was a guarantee that there would be enough supernumerary placements available that could support students properly, “because still a lot of trusts haven’t returned to normal yet”.
In addition, Ms Sainsbury noted that she had asked for a re-evaluation of the student response to Covid-19 around a month ago and had still not received a response.
“We are taught as students that when you are providing care or when something is happening, it should happen and then you should evaluate it as soon as possible, see what’s working and see what’s not working and then make a new plan,” she said.
Going forward, Ms Sainsbury said the committee would be calling for “better and clearer communication” from national bodies, and for greater student involvement in decisions.