Health secretary Matt Hancock has announced that up to 18,700 final year student nurses “will move to the frontline” to aid health service staff during the Covid-19 crisis. We spoke to some of them about starting their careers during a pandemic.
My placement has been moved forward from to June to April because of coronavirus. I’m very nervous, but excited. It’ll be a learning experience for everyone, not just student nurses. None of us has dealt with a pandemic.
Do I feel prepared? No, in that I don’t really know what to expect. Yes, in that I’ve dealt with situations in hospitals where we’ve had to be on high alert for deteriorating patients. We’re putting our health at risk, but this is what we do every day as nurses; we come into contact with so many infections. I feel like we can tackle this by following the routines we’ve been taught.
I live with another student nurse who’s more ready than I am, to be honest. He’s excited for a longer placement, and this time we’re actually being paid. My year missed out on bursaries, so it’s been difficult financially. For two years I had a part-time job as a healthcare assistant with an agency, picking up shifts when I didn’t have so many uni assignments. It was nearly impossible to manage. If it weren’t for my parents, I would have struggled.
It’s nice to be part of something so huge. I understand that there are many students who are scared to take on this responsibility, but I feel like it’s a good thing that they’ve called on us. You have to be positive, or you’ll lose your head.
‘I don’t really have a choice but to go in’
Rebecca Lennox, 29, is a first year nursing student at John Moores University.
I’m starting my work placement at a post-surgery ward soon. I’m worried because I’ve got two young children and a husband with bad asthma. Although I won’t be working directly with patients who are positive with the virus, I’ll be travelling and working in that hospital. The patients are already at risk so I think, what if I touch something in a lift or on the bus on to work and pass it to one of the patients?
We have to do 2,300 theory hours and 2,300 clinical hours before we can register to become a nurse. The university says we have the choice not to go on placement now, but where am I going to make those hours up? I’m classed as a mature student, so it can feel like I’m on borrowed time. My dad has dementia and I worry about whether he’ll get to see me graduate.
I’m a course representative at my university, so I hear a lot of concerns from other students. We feel like we’re in limbo. The university is trying to give assurances as to what’s going on with our hours and so on, but they just don’t know everything.
I feel ready for the work. As student nurses, we go with the flow anyway because the health service is already so understaffed. Although we’re not meant to be counted in the numbers, we pretty much are all the time.
‘The government takes advantage of nurses’ good nature’
Joseph Brooks, 27, is a third year nursing student at the University of Northampton.
I’ll be going on placement in the next couple of weeks. The situation is obviously not great, but with the new rules allowing us to graduate early we’re clamouring to get out there and work.
I’m most worried about passing the virus on to the patients. Since we’re students, we need to be supervised – but I have no idea how it’s going to work if supervisors end up contracting the virus and have to self-isolate. I imagine we’ll hear something closer to the time; we’re getting updates every couple of days.
I’ve heard that we will be paid while on placement during coronavirus. There’s also going to be a new grant for student nurses, but that doesn’t arrive until September. But while the grant is coming in now is welcome, it’s lower than it was, and tuition fees are still over £9,000 a year. Luckily for me, my employer (St Andrew’s Healthcare) is giving me a stipend of about £16,000 to go to university.
It’s not as if the government wasn’t warned back in 2017 that they’d see a massive drop in nurses when they scrapped the bursary for student nurses – and that’s what happened. The thing with nurses is that they’re incredible people, but it seems to me that the government takes advantage of their good nature. In order to be come a nurse, you have to saddle yourself with debt. I don’t blame people who are put off by that – especially if they’re from low income backgrounds. More needs to be done.