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NHS crisis: deploying nursing students ‘would be a big mistake’

Nursing undergraduates must not be called on to fill staffing gaps, insists senior nurse academic, as Number 10 fails to rule out return to pandemic contingency
Nursing staffing gather round to confer and look at notes

Nursing undergraduates must not be called on to fill staffing gaps, insists senior nurse academic, as Number 10 fails to rule out return to pandemic contingency

Using nursing students to plug gaps in NHS staffing could be ‘devastating’ and lead students to quit their education, a leading nursing educator said.

The warning comes after Downing Street refused to rule out using students to ease nursing shortages in the NHS – an urgent contingency used at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asked if prime minister Rishi Sunak would consider such a move, his spokesperson told reporters: ‘It’s important we consider all options and that work has been taking place in advance of this winter.

Nursing undergraduates must not be called on to fill staffing gaps, insists senior nurse academic, as Number 10 fails to rule out return to pandemic contingency

Nursing staffing gather round to confer and look at notes
Picture: John Houlihan

Using nursing students to plug gaps in NHS staffing could be ‘devastating’ and lead students to quit their education, a leading nursing educator said.

The warning comes after Downing Street refused to rule out using students to ease nursing shortages in the NHS – an urgent contingency used at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asked if prime minister Rishi Sunak would consider such a move, his spokesperson told reporters: ‘It’s important we consider all options and that work has been taking place in advance of this winter.

‘There are obviously significant challenges to that sort of approach and we are confident the Department of Health and the NHS in England are taking the right steps to do everything possible to mitigate challenges we’re seeing.’

‘Deployment in the pandemic was a huge struggle’

But head of adult nursing and health and social care at Newman University, Birmingham Kevin Crimmons told Nursing Standard such a move could lead to more students leaving their courses because of the pressure to balance work and studies.

He warned of the consequences of students supporting the NHS during the pandemic, with many finishing their courses some 18 months after they should have originally qualified.

‘It was a huge struggle for universities and students who were deployed during COVID-19. Some of them are only just finishing their nursing course now and so it would be a big mistake to try and redeploy students. It could be devastating,’ he remarked.

‘We will see a certain amount of attrition from students because it is very, very difficult to juggle full-time paid work in the NHS and keep up with studies.’

Solution must be found that is for the long-term nurse workforce

He said the government should look at how to make nursing a viable and robust profession as a long-term solution to the staffing crisis.

Final-year students were asked to join the COVID-19 emergency register in 2020 to support the nursing workforce under measures approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

They had the option to finish their programmes on paid, extended clinical placements without supernumerary status. Mr Crimmons said if this happened again, it could fall to current clinical staff to help with students’ education.

‘It would place a burden on NHS colleagues because the only way to do this is by turning to clinically focused staff to up-skill a temporary workforce and supervise them.’

The RCN and NMC were contacted for comment.


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