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Coronavirus response: plan to employ third-year nursing students at band 5

NHS England and chief nursing officer consulting NMC on how to get students into clinical practice

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens  Picture: Terence Philips

Third-year nursing students will be invited into clinical practice and paid at band 5 level to help combat pressure from coronavirus cases, the head of NHS England has confirmed. 

Potential pool of 18,000 third-year nursing students

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said the nursing profession would have to ‘respond flexibly’ and work in different ways in response to the virus.

‘We are going to invite third-year undergraduate nurses into clinical practice,’ he said, adding that chief nursing officer for England Ruth May was working with the NMC ‘to see how many of those 18,000 third-year students would be available, if they chose to step forward’.

When questioned about whether the roles would be paid or voluntary, Mr Stevens told his audience at the chief nursing officer’s (CNO) conference in Birmingham: ‘That is going to be paid – probably band 5-type pay.’

Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe confirmed the organisation was exploring how to register ‘different groups of nursing and midwifery professionals’ quickly.

‘We’re working closely with the government – together with key partners across all four countries of the UK – on the proposed development of new legislation that would allow us to register individuals on an emergency basis in response to the coronavirus outbreak,' she said. 

Ms Sutcliffe added that planning was ‘complex and ongoing’ but adopting a safe and proportionate approach was fundamental.

National guidance on students’ NMC registration needed

Katerina Kolyva, executive director of the Council of Deans of Health, the body that represents UK universities that provide nurse education, said the organisation broadly supports the move, but called for assurances from government about how students would be registered.

Katerina Kolyva, of the Council of
Deans of Health Picture: David Gee

‘Clear national guidance is needed to avoid people doing whatever they like locally – these are times when people are under pressure and it is very important for the NMC to have clear national guidance that is consistent,’ she said.

Dr Kolyva said ideally universities would be able to support students to stay on programmes and placements, and remain ‘supervised and supernumerary’.

‘However, we recognise in these unprecedented times we may not have the resources university-side and practice-side to support students with appropriate supervision and to remain in programmes,’ she said.

‘Those who are supporting students may have to be redeployed, fall sick or have to be isolated. For that reason, we would support a call for students to become redeployed in clinical practice.’

Students treated as staff in every respect

Dr Kolyva emphasised that under such a move, these individuals would have to stop being students for a period and be treated as staff, with the accompanying indemnity insurance and contracts.

On 10 March, Scotland’s health secretary, Jeane Freeman, told members of the Scottish parliament that work was ‘in hand’ to explore how nursing students close to finishing their training might be registered temporarily.

An RCN spokesperson said the college was preparing to support any students asked to provide care due to pressures caused by COVID-19.

‘While we await more detail on the government’s plans for nursing students, we are clear that essential health and care needs of patients must always be undertaken by appropriately paid and qualified staff,’ they said.

‘The RCN will support students who wish to deliver care in this time of difficulty, working within their competency and under supervision.’

As of 9am on 11 March, 456 people in the UK have tested positive for COVID-19 and six patients have died.

Other COVID-19 developments

  • Nursing Standard has learned that senior nurses at a closed session of the chief nursing officer’s conference on COVID-19 were urged to keep communication about the virus simple, contain anxiety, support staff and keep them well informed
  • Scotland’s health secretary says NHS modelling shows COVID-19 could result in an absence rate of 25-30% among health service workers – and that dealing with infected patients left NHS workers at ‘greater risk’, even if using protective equipment
  • The NHS in England plans to expand testing facility capacity so that 10,000 coronavirus tests can be performed each day
  • Health minister Nadine Dorries has been diagnosed with COVID-19


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