This is what has happened with student nurses who volunteered to work for the NHS early

22 June 2020
What was claimed

Student nurses of the 2017 cohort were asked to join the NHS workforce early this year, due to Covid-19.

Our verdict

This is true, final year nursing students were given the option to join the workforce early and be paid for this work, due to Covid-19.

What was claimed

They signed a six month contract taking them to full qualification, six months earlier than they had anticipated.

Our verdict

The contract they signed will depend on the trust they worked for. But some nurses may have been under the impression they would work for six months and some of the communication about the policy to nurses was ambiguous.

What was claimed

Health Education England have said they can no longer afford to honour this agreement and many will be pulled out of full time paid work early.

Our verdict

Health Education England has said that student nurses who volunteered to work will be paid until 31 July, or until September if they haven’t yet completed the hours they need to qualify as nurses.

A viral Facebook post makes a number of claims about student nurses, some of whom were asked to join the NHS workforce early during the pandemic.

Part of the post says:

“THOUSANDS of us, terrified but dedicated signed up to a 6 month long work contract, taking us to full qualification. Many of us on COVID wards. 6 months sooner than we had ever anticipated, and we were all terrified. But we did it.

“I’d just like to let you all know, that as of a few days ago, Health Education England has 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.”

We aim to give those claims some context here.

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What were student nurses asked to do?

In March, nursing students in England in the final six months of their undergraduate or postgraduate programme were asked to opt-in to an arrangement where they would move into clinical practice during “this emergency period”, and be paid to do so.

In a letter from the Chief Nursing Officer for England, and the Chief Nurse at Health Education England (HEE), final year students were told they would be paid a band 4 salary (starting from £21,892 from April), and would still have to complete their education, including final assessments, when the pandemic was over. Students were told that entering into this arrangement was optional.

HEE said at the time that: “The exact nature of the role to be undertaken and the level of supervision will be agreed between each student and the organisation in which they will be working. In the majority of cases, we will seek to place students in an organisation where they have worked previously. The hours you work will contribute to your overall programme to reflect the experience you will gain during these challenging times.”

Nursing students were also told they would continue to receive their student loan, and that the wages they earnt doing this work would not affect their maintenance loans, in “nearly all cases”.

Importantly, this time spent working, called being on “extended clinical placement” would count towards the 2,300 total practice hours student nurses need to undertake to fully qualify. They are not usually paid for these practice hours.

There were also some changes for nursing students not in their final year. For example, those in their second year (or first six months of their third year) could volunteer to do some clinical work for pay, but for this piece we’re going to focus on the situation affecting final year students.

Similar options were given to final year nursing students in the rest of the UK too.

How long were student nurses told they’d be working for?

According to the Facebook posts we’re looking at, and other reporting, many student nurses were expecting to be paid at band four for working in clinical practice for six months. This seems understandable, given some of the ambiguities we’ve seen in how the policy was communicated.

In April, the director of nursing and midwifery education at the Nursing and Midwifery Council (which came up with the policy along with HEE) Geraldine Walters, wrote about the offer to final year students in the Nursing Times.

In this article, she said: “As a final-year student nearing the end of your course, you were probably due to spend your last three months in clinical placement. [These students are being offered] to extend this and spend your last six months in a clinical placement...there has been a commitment to remunerate you for your support.”

But the length of time these students would be paid for was not explicitly mentioned in the guidance from HEE (for example, whether it would just be the extra three months in clinical placement they would be signing up for, or the full six months). 

The contracts student nurses will have signed depends on the organisation the individual was working for, according to HEE. 

We asked the Royal College of Nursing, the trade union for nursing staff, for information on how long these contracts were for. It told us it wasn't able to advise on how long the contracts were.

What has happened now?

It’s correct that in England, the student nurses who volunteered to join the nursing workforce early have been told they will be paid until 31 July 2020—so less than six months since the recruitment call came from HEE. For those who won’t have finished their total 2,300 practice hours by then, they will continue to be paid until September to allow them to complete this.

In response to a question on 17 June, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament: “It is wrong to suggest that student nurses and midwives are being made redundant. All student nurses and midwives are required to complete placements during their training. As part of the response to Covid-19, those hours have been paid and will be until the end of the summer. NHS England has been provided with the funding for student salaries as part of our response to Covid-19.”

Update 23 June 2020

We updated the piece following a response from the Royal College of Nursing.

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