Student nurses who stepped up to help the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic say they now face financial hardship – after they were told paid placements would end early.
At the height of the crisis, more than 25,000 students across the UK were deployed to the front line of the NHS on extended and paid clinical placements.
It came amid fears hospitals could be overwhelmed by the number of patients infected with the virus requiring intensive care.
Now, as infections fall, students have received letters from Health Education England (HEE) telling them they are no longer needed.
HEE insists they are not being made ‘redundant’.
In a letter sent to Stoke-on-Trent MP Jo Gideon, which was posted on Facebook, one Keele University student said: “We have voluntarily risked our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, to come to the aid of the NHS.
“Not only is this devastating at an individual level, but staff sickness and otherwise abysmal staffing levels means that this is devastating for our colleagues, and patients too.
“I moved from London to study here in Stoke-on-Trent, and I could lose my home here.”
The student said she had signed a contract to work for the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust (UNHM) until September 20, but has now been told she will not be paid after July 31.
Rob Irving, of the North Staffordshire branch of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “If the Government entered into an agreement they should honour that agreement, but they are plainly not going to do that.
“They have asked these staff to work before they are eligible to do so.
“These nurses have acted in good faith to help out and are now having the rug pulled out from underneath them.”
Ms Gideon, the Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, said: “It has been brilliant how student nurses have risen to the challenge and they deserve a massive thank-you.
“Student nurses normally have a placement and it comes to an end in July. It is not normally paid, but this is an exceptional time and it is right they were paid.
“Their placement normally comes to an end in July. They need to get back to the classroom. It is so important they complete their education and get qualified so they can work in the NHS.
“Now is the time to get back to the more normal part of their course.”
Professor Mark Radford, chief nurse at HEE, said in a statement 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.”
Michelle Rhodes, UHNM’s chief nurse, said: “UHNM have issued contracts to second and third year student nurses until the August 31 and all of our students will be paid. Our students are a huge asset to the trust and we will be writing to everyone single one of them to tell them we will honour their contracts. We are very grateful that they joined and wanted to support UHNM during this unprecedented time and very proud of the care and compassion they have given.”