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Student nurses in England who may be forced to extend their courses beyond three years because of the coronavirus pandemic will be given access to financial support to help them graduate, the government has confirmed.
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.
“We will ensure student nurses get the support they need to graduate, including access to financial support”
Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson
In order to qualify, the Nursing and Midwifery Council requires students to complete 4,600 hours of training split equally between academic study and practice.
The NMC has made clear that it expects education institutions to work closely with their students to identify how any gap in theory or placement hours resulting from the pandemic will be met before the end of their programme to allow students to graduate as planned.
However, the professional regulator has also recognised that some students may have to defer or extend their programmes if they cannot fulfil their hours in time.
In wake of the pandemic, student nurses have raised concerns about making up lost hours, with questions looming over whether they would have to pay for any additional study time.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has now confirmed to Nursing Times that it will “ensure student nurses get the support they need to graduate, including access to financial support”.
However, it did not provide any further information on the nature of this financial support.
Nursing Times understands that arrangements are being developed by the DHSC and Health Education England (HEE) to ensure final-year student nurses, who may have to extend their courses beyond three years, have the support they need to qualify, including financially. Further details of these arrangements will be communicated to students as soon as possible.
While it seems the organisations are focusing on final-year students, some second-year students will also be affected, particularly those who opted out of paid placements and now have a large backlog of practice hours to catch up on before the end of their courses.
It is also understood that HEE is working locally with higher education providers to ensure placements are available for student nurses and that as many students as possible graduate on time.
The paid placement offer is set to end for the majority of student nurses this week. However, for some third-year students who are in the final six months of their programme and still need to complete placement hours to finish their studies the placements will continue until September if necessary.
A DHSC spokesperson told Nursing Times: “Student nurses have played an outstanding role for the NHS, bravely stepping up to help save lives during an unprecedented global pandemic.
“We will ensure student nurses get the support they need to graduate, including access to financial support.”