Student nurses on Covid-19 frontline 'abandoned' by NHS after placements cut short

17 June 2020, 14:34

Student nurses were drafted in to work on coronavirus wards
Student nurses were drafted in to work on coronavirus wards. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Student nurses parachuted on to the front line against Covid-19 have told how they feel "abandoned" after their NHS placements were cut short, plunging some of them into financial despair.

Student nurses took to Facebook and Twitter to express outrage at a decision from NHS England to finish their paid placements at the end of July instead of running until the end of September.

In mid-April, NHS England reported that nearly 15,000 student nurses, midwives and medical students had joined "frontline NHS teams as part of the nationwide coronavirus fightback".

One nurse calling herself Becky Jane said nurses had been told by Health Education England, the body that oversees training, that the NHS can no longer afford to keep the paid placements going until the end of September as originally promised.

She wrote on Facebook: "When the pandemic was at its worst, the student nurses of cohort 2017 (3rd year) were asked to join the NHS workforce early.

"THOUSANDS of us, terrified but dedicated, signed up for a six month long work contract taking us to full qualification.

"Many of us were on Covid wards six months sooner than we ever anticipated and we were all terrified. But we did it.

"Some of us left jobs for this. Many of us have children and families to care for."

She said nurses could graduate with around £30,000 debt already and had signed up for the six-month placements at the start of April despite being "terrified" of contracting Covid-19.

She added: "Please do not clap for your NHS. Please in future consider voting to fund it properly."

One nurse said she does not feel "valued" following the news
One nurse said she does not feel "valued" following the news. Picture: Facebook

Another nurse, Sarah Flynn, wrote on Facebook: "Student nurses currently on the Covid frontline have had their funding pulled and will not be paid from the end of July.

"The extent to which we are being truly shafted has dawned on me this morning.

"I am proud of all of us who stepped up and risked our lives for the NHS. We are on the right side of history.

Appealing directly to the Prime Minister, she wrote: "We saved your life Boris or have you forgotten?"

Another nurse asked Boris Johnson if he had "forgotten" who saved his life
Another nurse asked Boris Johnson if he had "forgotten" who saved his life. Picture: Facebook

A second year nursing student, named Sarah Flynn, wrote to her local MP to explain that many student nurses initially found out they were being deployed to work in the NHS "via the news".

She said: "We ave voluntarily risked our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, to come to the aid of the NHS.

"Although this was voluntary, some of us had very little choice. The monthly pay from these contracts is something many of us desperately need. I have a house to upkeep, many student nurses have mouths to feed.

"There are plenty of single mothers paying for childcare while they study for a qualification.

"I have friends who, on the basis of this contract, have been able to rent properties."

Nurses have written to their local MPs
Nurses have written to their local MPs. Picture: Facebook

Another student nurse took to Twitter to appeal to the Health Secretary, and said nurses need to know "about Health Education England pulling the funding from the end of July for 3rd year student nurses who have volunteered to help during the pandemic!!!"

One said she felt "completely used and deflated" after hearing the news.

She said: "I feel like I now have to rush to get my hours done as well as ACPE & everything else like homeschooling! I wish we’d of known this before being urged to opt in."

"I’m a third year student nurse, we’ve been promised by the government that we will be paid at a certain wage, they have now changed their minds and will be paying us less and only til August.

"I now have a £700pm tenancy that I won’t be able to afford. Other student nurses have children, cars, mortgages to pay for. This is extremely unfair, especially in the current climate," explained another.

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, praised them at the time, saying they were "stepping up to serve in the fight against coronavirus".

He added: "Today we want to say particular thanks to the new generation of NHS staff who are starting their careers early to play their part.

"These students are beginning their careers as the NHS faces the greatest global health challenge in the history of the health service.

"Their commitment to the NHS and all it stands for is as great as that of any previous generation, and the whole country will be both grateful and proud."

More than 25,000 students across the UK were deployed to the front line on extended and paid clinical placements to assist with the Covid-19 response.

According to the website NursingNotes, one university told its student nurses: "We have now had final confirmation that the 31st of July 2020 will be the end date for all students on paid placements in all placement areas."

Former health secretary and Tory MP Jeremy Hunt tweeted of the reports from student nurses: "This would be very concerning if true but I cannot believe govt would let down this brilliant and brave group of people."

Professor Mark Radford, chief nurse at Health Education England, said in a statement: "We would like to thank all those students who were able to come forward to support the NHS at this challenging time. It has been hugely appreciated.

"Student placements are not usually paid, although NHS England and NHS Improvement funded them on this occasion in recognition of the special circumstances.

"While funding to the end of July will ensure the majority of students have time to complete the hours necessary to move to the next stage of their career, any student who requires continued funding over the summer will receive it."

Mike Adams, director for England at the Royal College of Nursing, said: "We urge Health Education England and the NHS in England to offer some clarity for students about the way forward.

"The vital work student nurses have been doing throughout the pandemic has demonstrated the huge contribution nursing undergraduates make to our health and care services.

"The commitments they made should be honoured during any transition back to established programme structures."