Q: Why are student nurses paying tuition fees?

A: Until 2016-17 students studying a nursing degree received a bursary worth up to £16,454 a year. The bursary also met student tuition fees.

But the bursary was scrapped and students had to apply for loans to cover their costs.

Q: Aren't tuition fees being scrapped?

A: From the next academic year, starting in September 2020, all nursing students in England will get a £5,000-a-year maintenance grant. In addition, those who plan to work in areas with the greatest need or in disciplines where there is a shortage will receive another £3,000.

But this does not apply to the final year student nurses currently working in our hospitals.

Q: Why are some students working in hospitals unpaid and others are employed?

A: When the coronavirus pandemic first started to affect the way our hospitals operate, many students - nurses in particular - found themselves at the epicentre as they completed the placement necessary to pass their degree.

It is something most student nurses, paramedics and midwives undertake as part of their training and consists of unpaid 12 hour shifts where they gain experience.

They are 'supernumerary' members of staff, meaning that the student will not, as part of their programme of preparation, be contracted by any person or body to provide nursing care.

Q: So what happened?

A: As it became clearer that more support would be needed on the frontline, the government moved to employing students on a short contract.

One trust in Yorkshire said all clinical placements have been paused for student nurses and midwives unless they are part-way through an assessed placement as of March 2020. The trust said only a small number of these have remained on placement but there will be many nurses who faced the worst scenarios the pandemic has brought before the changes were announced, and many still on placement.

Back in early April, Ruth May, the chief nursing officer for England, held talks with universities to make nurses available as soon as possible.

She said third-year students would be moved "urgently" on to emergency clinical placement. They were to provide services as part of a final placement on their nursing course with an opportunity to upskill and work alongside supervisors. The nursing chief said all practice hours will contribute to their degree.

These third-year nursing students in final placement would be offered a temporary formal contract to move into an NHS healthcare position, earning a band 4 wage.

The chief could not give an official start date for students, meaning those already on placement would continue working for free until the contract was processed by their universities and hospitals alike.

The chief said: "COVID-19 is an established significant pandemic across the UK and globally. The services across health and care sectors are under extreme pressure and I am aware that this pressure will be exacerbated by staff shortages due to sickness, isolation and/or caring responsibilities.

"Nurses, midwives and nursing associates make up the largest group of registered healthcare professionals and although all professionals are equally important and valued, there are specific challenges to ensure the ongoing provision of a nursing and midwifery workforce within this emergency environment.

"I must stress that decisions have not been taken lightly and there has also been consideration of risks of potential unintended consequences and mitigation of them."

If you agree it is unfair to ask student nurses to pay tuition fees while they care for sick and dying coronavirus victims in our hospitals please sign our petition here.


Bradford Telegraph and Argus: