End to student nurses’ Covid contracts comes “out of the blue”

Final-year nursing students who were invited to join the workforce amid the Covid-19 pandemic have been told that their contracts will end in July.

Health Education England (HEE) today announced that final-year students on placement during Covid-19 will be paid until July 31, 2020, after which they will qualify and be paid as “full registered nurses.”

In a statement, HEE Chief Nurse Mark Radford thanked the students who came forward to “support the NHS at this challenging time.” He went on to refute allegations that student nurses and midwives are being made redundant.

“All student nurses and midwives are required to complete placements during their training,” Radford explained. “These placements are normally unpaid but to recognise the special circumstances and as part of the response to Covid-19, these hours have been paid.”

As part of HEE’s exit plan, Year 3 students who have completed their placement hours will be paid until the end of July. Year 3 students with hours left to complete will be paid until September, whilst HEE will pay Year 2 students until July 31, after which non-paid placements will be re-introduced.

Radford claimed that “it was always made clear to students who opted into paid placements that the arrangements would need to come to an end at an appropriate point.” After this point, students would no longer be paid on placement, “returning to their supernumerary status to complete their … qualifications.”

HEE says that the decision was agreed by all partners, including the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and Council of Deans (CoD), and unions: “This means that any final-year student who has been working in the NHS will receive funding until they complete their programme and then they will be able to … apply for a permanent role as a registered nurse.”

HEE’s decision “out of the blue”

Student nurses have voiced opposition to HEE’s decision.

A student nurse who goes by the name Becky Jane wrote on Facebook that she anticipated employment for a full six months: “THOUSANDS of us, terrified but dedicated, signed up to a 6-month-long work contract, taking us to full qualification… A few days ago, [HEE] informed us that they can no longer afford to honour this agreement, and that many of us will be pulled out of full-time paid work early.

“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 [exceeding] £30,000 for doing a degree we have such a passion for.”

Becky Jane concluded: “Please do not clap for your NHS. Please, in the future, consider voting to fund it properly.”

Becky Jane’s viral post has garnered more than 6.3k reactions on Facebook.

A hooded demonstrator holds up a placard "NHS - More Funds"
Critics of the Conservative government have called for more NHS funding throughout the past decade.

London Student spoke to Flo, the President of King’s College London’s Nursing and Midwifery Society. Flo explained that the announcement has “come out of the blue for us so we’re still just trying to understand exactly what it means for us and where we go from here.”

Flo echoed Becky Jane’s comments: “Many of us have given up our regular jobs to work tirelessly to help in the pandemic… We were (and still are) willing to do what was needed to support and care for our patients, so for this to be how it ends feels insulting.”

Flo concluded: “Many of our [NHS] Trusts have been amazing and are supporting us but this decision has come from HEE and it seems our voices are hitting a brick wall. I think I echo the thoughts and feelings of most student nurses and midwives when I say we are exhausted from having to battle to get the recognition that we deserve; this just feels like one more nail in the coffin. Hopefully we can find a solution in the coming weeks.”

Campaigns continue

This is not the first time that student nurses have directed their anger towards government bodies since the outbreak of the pandemic. In April, London Student spoke to student nurses in Uxbridge.

One nurse, C., told us: “the government isn’t being transparent about what’s going on… Clapping hands is really nice, but it doesn’t encourage me, especially when the government doesn’t provide nurses with enough equipment when we need it.”

Another, S., called for government leaders to abolish student nurses’ supernumerary status: “Students should get paid for their hard work during placement.”

Dr. Onkar Sahota AM, Chair of the Greater London Assembly’s Health Committee, also wrote to Matt Hancock MP in April calling for the reintroduction of the nurses’ bursary for first- and second-year students.

Feature image: Will Durrant.

Will is London Student's Features Editor. He has recently completed a BA History at SOAS, and you might find him hiding in a library around Bloomsbury.

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