Health Education England (HEE) has denied it is cutting pay for student nurses working on the front line against Covid-19 after some took to social media to say they had been plunged into financial despair.
Nurses took to Facebook and Twitter to express outrage that their paid placements will now finish at the end of July instead of running until September as they had been told.
One, calling herself Becky Jane, said nurses had been told by Health Education England – which oversees training – that the NHS can no longer afford to keep the paid placements going until the end of September.
She wrote on Facebook: “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.”
Another nurse, Sarah Flynn, wrote on Facebook: “We saved your life Boris or have you forgotten?”
One letter sent by her university to nurse Samantha Louise and posted on Twitter says: “As the Covid-19 pandemic has continued the workforce needs of the NHS have changed and we have been discussing this with the NHS and Health Education England.
“We now have confirmation that July 31 will be the end date for all students on paid placements in all placement areas.
“Bringing the end of placement date forward will enable the NHS to reconfigure for routine services.”
It adds that students will be put on “reading weeks” until the end of the academic year, though these are not paid.
At the start of the pandemic, a letter signed by the UK’s four chief nursing officers plus the heads of unions said undergraduate nursing programmes would be changed so students “can opt to undertake their final six months of their programme as a clinical placement” in the fight against Covid-19.
It also said work would be carried out on “remuneration” for “students whose final six months are spent in clinical placement”.
Reports suggesting student nurses & midwives are being made redundant are false.— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) June 17, 2020
All students who have worked as part of the Covid19 response have been paid & will be until the end of the summer.
Thank you to every student for supporting the NHS at this difficult time
Professor Mark Radford, chief nurse at HEE, said in a statement on Wednesday that final-year students will be paid until July 31 and can then get paid jobs as registered nurses.
If they have hours still to complete in their placement, they will be paid until September, he said.
Those in Year 2 will be paid until the end of July.
HEE was unable to say whether students were told at the start of their placements that pay would mostly only continue until the end of July.
Mr Radford said: “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.
“To be clear, it is absolutely untrue to suggest that student nurses and midwives are being made redundant; all student nurses and midwives are required to complete placements during their training.
“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 and will be until the end of summer. NHS England has been provided with the funding for student salaries as part of the response to Covid.
“Year 3 students will be paid till 31st of July and, if they have completed hours and assessments, can qualify and be paid as a full registered nurses.
“They will move from Band 4 to Band 5 and therefore increase their pay.
“Any Year 3 student who has hours to complete will be paid until September to allow them to do this.
“Any Year 2 students on placement till July 31st will be paid and after this normal non-paid placements will be reintroduced along with Year 1 students.
“We committed at the outset of the pandemic to ensure that these students complete their training and are able to qualify.
“It was always made clear to students who opted in to paid placements the arrangements would need to come to an end at an appropriate point so that students could return to their supernumerary status to complete their registered nursing qualifications as quickly as possible to permanently enter the NHS workforce.”
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”.
The vital work student nurses have been doing throughout the pandemic has demonstrated the huge contribution nursing undergraduates make to our health and care servicesMike Adams, Royal College of Nursing
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens praised them at the time, saying they were “stepping up to serve in the fight against coronavirus”.
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.
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.”
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.”
Shadow health minister Justin Madders said: “Student nurses up and down the country have cut their studies short, and in some cases left other jobs, to go and work on the front line as part of the national effort to combat coronavirus.
“Their personal commitment should be recognised and reciprocated by the Government. They do not deserve to be cast aside like this and ministers must explain exactly what is happening.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs in the Commons that the funding would be in place “until the end of summer” but gave no specific date.
He said: “It is wrong to suggest that student nurses and midwives are being made redundant.”