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Student nurses in England who signed up to paid clinical placements during the coronavirus pandemic will receive payments until the agreed end of their contract, new guidance has clarified.
It has been confirmed in writing that student nurses who opted-in to the paid clinical placement offer will have their contracts honoured, following weeks of concern that this might not be the case.
“We welcome the clarity confirming that students in England will have their contracts honoured”
In addition, it has been promised by HEE that contracts can only be ended early voluntarily by the nursing student themselves.
The clarifications came in an online Frequently Asked Questions document published by Health Education England (HEE) on Friday.
The move follows a wave of anger and distress from student nurses who took to social media earlier this month to express their concerns over a lack of information regarding their paid placements.
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 but concerns began to be raised that paid placements were going to end earlier than expected.
However, it was recently established that paid placements will end for all second-year students and most third year students on 31 July.
It has also now been confirmed by HEE that students in their third year and final six months of their programme, who still need placement hours to finish their studies, will be “fully paid until the end of their employment contract offer”.
“Any student in the last six months of their programme and on paid placement will be fully paid until the end of their employment contract offer, unless this is voluntarily ended early by the student, as part of a learning agreement between the student, placement provider and AEI [approved education institution] to conclude the contract early,” the FAQs said.
“At that point, you will then be able to complete your programme and join the Nursing and Midwifery Council register and progress to a registered nurse or midwife position.”
“A lack of clarity and information around this issue has led to confusion and distress”
HEE said it recognised that there may be “individual circumstances where further study or supernumerary placement hours are required to enable the AEI to sign off a student”.
“This will be discussed with the you by your university and plans put in place to enable you to complete your degree,” the document added.
All new placements starting from August onwards will be supernumerary, and unpaid, as normal, it noted.
Commenting on the updated information, Royal College of Nursing director for England, Mike Adams said: “We welcome the clarity offered by this statement, confirming that those students in England who stepped forward to work during this pandemic will have their contracts honoured.
“We are additionally pleased to see confirmation that any change to existing contracts must be voluntarily ended by the student, rather than solely by the employer – a key demand from students, who continue to be well represented by the RCN Student Committee.”
Meanwhile, chair of the RCN Student Committee, Jess Sainsbury, said nursing students who were “working hard on extended placements will feel reassured to hear that their contracts will be honoured”.
“A lack of clarity and information around this issue has led to confusion and distress, at a time when those who have responded to the pandemic simply want to focus on their role and do the best job they can for their patients,” she said.
“As things return to normal, student nurses entering supernumerary placements must be supported properly so they can continue to learn and add value.”
Ms Sainsbury also called on the government to wipe existing debt for student nurses and scrap student-funded tuition fees for future nursing students.
“Student nurses should not pay for their training and recruitment into the profession needs urgent and proper funding now,” she said.
“It’s vital that the government responds to the RCN’s calls to forgive existing debt, abolish student-funded tuition fees for future students and introduce universal, living maintenance grants that reflect actual student need.”
Though the clarification on contracts has been welcomed by many across the profession, it seems there is still some uncertainty for what the next steps are for those who did not sign up to paid clinical placements or whom have been shielding during the pandemic.
The FAQ acknowledged that some students “may face difficulty in making up hours”.
The document advised student nurses to talk to their university which it said would “be able to help you understand what academic and placement requirements you need to finish your degree and how these may be completed”.
“We are aware some students may face difficulties in making up hours and continuing your studies and we are actively working together to consider how best to support you,” the FAQ added.
The update for student nurses comes shortly after the NMC proposed moves to withdraw a number of the emergency education standards introduced for the Covid-19 crisis.
Under, the NMC plans announced last Wednesday at the same time as regularity processes, these will be withdrawn by the end of September to enable students to continue their programmes and return to supernumerary status.