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A second-year student nurse has written an open letter demanding an apology from the care minister for what he condemned as an “unworthy depiction” of what he and his peers do.
James Savage, a mental health nursing student at Liverpool John Moores University, pictured above, has joined the chorus of voices expressing upset at Helen Whatley’s claim that student nurses were “not deemed to be providing a service”.
“I don’t think the care minister knows the extent of what student nurses are doing on the ward”
He spelled out his concerns in an open letter addressed to prime minister Boris Johnson, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock and “anyone else whom it may concern”.
In the letter, Mr Savage wrote: “I am a student nurse, the idea that I didn’t provide a service until now is ridiculous.
“We have been on the front lines during this pandemic, but we were there before it and we’ll be there after.
“We may not have been staff before and after this pandemic but I can assure you we have and will work hard as part of the team and we provide a service.”
In an interview with Nursing Times, Mr Savage said he found Ms Whatley’s comments to have been an “unworthy depiction of what we do as student nurses”.
As well as an apology, he said he wanted student nurses to be properly recognised for their contribution.
“I’m hoping to see first of all an apology and a reissued statement from the minister,” said Mr Savage.
“I think that’s what all the student nurses deserve, for her to say ‘yes, student nurses are playing a vital role on the wards, we are engaging as members of the team’ – it’s important for her to recognise that.”
He said he would also like to see the government “say that is not their position on student nurses and that they value the service student nurses are giving”.
The comments from Ms Whatley were included in a letter she had written in response to concerns that student nurses in England in the 2017-20 cohort had unfairly missed out on any financial aid.
These students were the first to be hit with tuition fees following the removal of the bursary and will also miss out on a new annual maintenance grant being introduced in September 2020.
In the letter, Ms Whatley confirmed that the government had “no plans” to backdate the new cost-of-living support and added that “student nurses in training are supernumerary and are not deemed to be providing a service”.
“They are required to undertake 2,300 hours of clinical practice to learn skills necessary for entry to the workforce. Whilst they may be performing limited clinical duties, this is under close supervision and they are not being paid to staff hospitals,” she had written.
The comments proved controversial for many students who argued that despite being supernumerary they still made a vital contribution in their teams while on placement.
“Supernumerary status is widely supported across the nursing profession”
The issue was also complicated by the fact that students who took up paid placements in response to the coronavirus pandemic were not granted supernumerary status.
Mr Savage was one of many thousands of students who had opted in for a paid Covid-19 placement.
He told Nursing Times that there were “a lot of student nurses who are offended” by the minister’s comments and especially for those who had opted in.
“At times we very much felt like employees before this started,” he said.
“I don’t think the care minister knows the extent of what student nurses are doing on the ward.”
When contacted by Nursing Times for a response to Mr Savage’s open letter, the government reissued the same statement released by Ms Whatley following the initial backlash.
In that statement, Ms Whatley said: “The whole country is grateful to student nurses for their heroic work on the NHS frontline during this unprecedented global pandemic.
“Supernumerary status for student nurses is a technical definition created to ensure they have the space and time to learn, and it is widely supported across the nursing profession.”