STUDENT nurses are scared and they are angry. They are risking their lives in this pandemic and yet they are the first to have paid £9,250 a year tuition fees. One student nurse felt compelled to share her experiences of working on hospital wards during the pandemic...

April 9

I am a final year student nurse currently on an unpaid placement during the pandemic. I have been exposed on several occasions to patients who are Covid-19 positive.

As a student nurse, any hours we miss during placement we must make up at the end of the course, which prolongs the time before we are able to qualify. However, there is a limit to which we are able to make up, which is a constant burden on our shoulders in case we do contract the virus.

Alongside this burden, my university have been extremely poor in responding to my concerns. Soon after the pandemic was declared it became apparent that nobody really knew what was going on.

Due to the number of times I have been exposed, I have not only worried about my health but the implications this has had on me achieving the qualifications I need in order to be a nurse.

In addition, the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) guidelines are changing everyday, which questions whether the original guidance was ever effective against Covid-19. The majority of PPE is intended to be single use, but many healthcare workers are forced to re-use PPE such as visors and glasses because there is not enough. As a result, there are healthcare workers who are refusing to look after Covid-19 patients.

I have not refused to look after Covid-19 patients, because this pandemic does not change my reasons for becoming a nurse - to look after people.

However, I often fear the repercussions this may have for myself and my family.

I am not paid to be on the frontline of this pandemic, yet I will continue to attend my unpaid placement putting myself and my family at risk.

I am so disappointed about the number of people not following Government advice on social distancing. Although they may not see the consequences of their actions, healthcare workers do.

My Covid-19 positive patients have ranged between the ages of 28 to 90-years-old and all of whom were severely unwell.

Besides the physical strains, the experiences you go through can be emotionally challenging. I’ve had to break bad news to my patients who have contracted Covid-19, and then ring their families to break the news.

It is never easy to care for dying patients.

However, during this pandemic I have had to place my patients who have sadly passed from Covid-19 into body bags. This may be ‘part of the job’ but it is these harrowing moments which will forever disturb me - I will not forget them.

From my experience, it is clear that the NHS was never prepared for this and, as a result, healthcare workers are struggling to cope. Hence the importance of staying at home no matter who you are, there are no exceptions.

I have been offered options regarding the remaining months of my course.

The most popular option amongst the 09/17 cohort appears to be becoming a band 4, where we will be paid to work full-time within healthcare settings to help combat this pandemic. I am now waiting to find out where I will be placed as a band 4.

While I wait, I have been following government guidelines, I rarely leave the house unless it is absolutely essential.

I hope that the public learn to do the same, as I fear what I am about to face when I return to hospital.

April 20 onwards

Regarding pay, we are no longer supernumerary student nurses. Instead we have the role of a band 4 nurse. Although I am nervous for the pressure and responsibility, I think I will learn a lot more this way. We have been given a choice of working between 30 and 37.5 hours a week.

Surprisingly, I am still waiting to be deployed as a band 4. I feel as though my university have been very slow in organising this, as hospital trusts were only given our student details yesterday! I have been told to expect to hear from them in the next few weeks.

Although I am happy to hear something is happening, I don’t think it has happened soon enough. I was originally supposed to finish my course in August, and now I won’t finish until October.

When I was unpaid we were supernumerary student nurses.

Our role whilst on placement was to learn new skills. However, it is very hard to be supernumerary in healthcare at the moment due to the shortage of staff. For a lot of the time our supernumerary status was not respected and we often took on the role of being a healthcare assistant rather than a nurse.

Now that I will be a band 4 nurse my role is not only to learn but to perform tasks independently. My university have allowed us to stay in our student uniforms to make sure our transition is safe, and other staff are aware of our competencies.

My tuition fees are £9,250 a year. My maintenance loan was the minimum between £3,000-£3,500 a year. I owe just over £20,000 in debt overall.

My friends on the nursing course who had the maximum load owe up to £60,000. My cohort, was the only one where the bursary was removed and we had to pay tuition fees, the government changed it back soon after.

I think they need to take away our debt because it is unfair. Genuinely, I don’t think the support I have from university over the three years is worth that amount of money.

For example, we are only given three uniforms to last the entire duration of the course, and have to pay for any more. Also, we have to buy books required for the exams and modules. Especially now we have been moved to the front line, I think the government need to show more appreciation of my cohort by removing the debt.

The shifts are very tiring in every way possible. Being a student is difficult because you’re trying to remember everything, whilst getting involved yourself and making a good impression.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

In first year I wasn’t used to working such long hours on my feet, I’d finish my shift and my legs would swell that much I didn’t fit into my leggings to go home in.

Now the PPE guidelines for COVID-19 have changed again and we are wearing masks for the full shift which will make it even more tiring, especially as the weather is getting warmer.

Not to forget the constant burden of academic work which is required to pass the degree.

I am in my final year, I failed an essay at the start of the year which I have one more attempt at. If I don’t pass my second attempt I won’t get my degree and I can’t be a nurse.

It’s very difficult to focus with that pressure - and the pressure of being on the frontline in this unprecedented pandemic - on my shoulders at the moment.

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.