COVID-19 emergency register for nurses: how it will work in practice

UPDATED  Final-year nursing students and recent ex-registrants will be deployed to shore up the nurse workforce amid coronavirus pandemic

*This article has been updated since it was originally published on 20 March 2020

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A recruitment drive to bring final-year nursing students and ex-nurses into the NHS to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak is underway.

New emergency legislation to allow the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to set up a COVID-19 emergency register was given royal assent on 25 March. The Coronvirus Act 2020 now applies to all four UK countries. It gives temporary registration to willing and eligible final-year nursing students, and nurses who have left practice in the past three years.

The NMC said that as of 11:45am on March 27, it had received 7,510 applications to join the temporary register from students and ex-nurses across the UK.

But how will the recruitment process work and what can potential new registrants expect?

Who will be eligible to join the emergency register?

Nurses who left practice up to three years ago, including retired nurses deemed ‘fit, proper and suitably experienced’, as well as nursing students who are in the final six months of their programmes and who have been recommended by their universities.

How many nurses could be brought into the workforce in this way – and where will they come from?

The NMC has indicated around 50,000 registrants who have left practice in the past three years could be re-registered. In addition, there are 28,100 students in their final year of study to become nurses, midwives or paramedics in England.

What is the first step?

The NMC will write to eligible ex-registrants asking them to express interest in re-registering. Universities will propose suitable final-year students shortly. The regulator will then pass on the details of potential emergency registrants to those leading the UK’s health and care services, who will decide how to deploy them and where. Terms and conditions are yet to be decided.

How much will it cost to join the temporary emergency register?

No fee will apply.

Will I be paid?

All those joining the temporary register will be paid, but the rate for final-year students has yet to be set. Northern Ireland has confirmed students joining the register will be paid at band 5, while Scotland said students will initially be paid at band 4. England and Wales have yet to release details. When the proposal was first announced, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said it was likely students would be paid at band 5, but this has not been confirmed.

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Will I have indemnity cover/insurance?

The government said it will ensure legal protections are in place for those working as part of the COVID-19 response.

Do I have to meet revalidation requirements to join the emergency register?

Normal registration and revalidation requirements will not apply.

What about if I have an underlying health condition?

NHS England has confirmed that people vulnerable to COVID-19 will not be expected to join the emergency register. It may be possible some could take on support and advice roles.

View our COVID-19 resources

How will Fitness to Practise (FtP) concerns be dealt with?

If concerns are raised about an individual’s FtP on the temporary register, the NMC has the power to remove them.

How will final-year nursing students be able to work as nurses, if already enrolled in degree programmes?

The regulator has changed the programme for preregistration nursing students, so that they can opt to undertake the final six months of their studies as clinical placements. The NMC has introduced varied emergency education standards to enable this to happen. In England, third and second year students will be paid at band 4 and 3 during hese placements. There are specific conditions of practice attached to this to ensure safeguards are in place.

I am a final year nursing student, will I be supernumerary if I join the emergency register?

Although it will not be possible for students on clinical placement to be supernumerary, the NMC still expects students to be supervised and work within an appropriate delegated framework.

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Will I still receive support from my university during this time?

The NMC says universities should ensure students are appropriately supported, in line with its standards. This might include lectures being held online and changes to assessment.

What if I don't want to spend the last six months on clinical placement?

Joining the new emergency register is entirely voluntary, as is undertaking an extended placement. Students also have the option of deferring their placement or stepping off programmes, but will need to discuss this with their institution.

What if I make a mistake on extended placement?

Students’ practice supervisors will address these as part of the learning process and/or as part of normal university processes, depending on the severity of the mistake.

What happens to my student loan or pension?

The Department of Health and Social Care has said it is working with other stakeholders, government bodies and devolved administrations to clarify policies on pay, pensions, training and student loans. The legislation guidance has already made it clear that nurses will not lose their pension rights if retired and returning to help at this time. In England students will still be able to access and recieve funding from the Student Loans Company.

What if I have further questions that are not answered anywhere else?

The UK’s chief nursing officers are working to establish a point of contact with a telephone helpline and website for all health and social care employers. This will then provide information for potential re-registrants and final year students. This article will continue to be updated as details are announced.

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