A placement walkout tomorrow by student nurses over the planned removal of bursaries will help show the true contribution they make to patient care and how they “fill in the gaps” and “hold the NHS together”, according to its organisers.
They told Nursing Times it would also serve as a warning to the government about the strain NHS organisations would feel under the funding reforms, which they claimed would deter student nurse applicants because of the prospect of debt.
“Students hold the NHS together, we have filled in the gaps through the nurse staffing crisis. Without us it will be felt”
The government was still “not listening to us” about concerns over proposals to end free university education for student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals in England from 2017, according to the student nurses who have organised the walkout.
One claimed tomorrow’s event will show how students are effectively used as unpaid healthcare assistants or registered nurses during clinical placements at NHS trusts – despite officially being supernumerary.
The demonstration will highlight how their free tuition and bursary for their living costs, which is currently up to around £5,000 per year, goes some way to remunerate them for their work, they added.
Danielle Tiplady, lead organiser of the demonstrations, told Nursing Times the one-hour walkout from 10am to 11am, which follows marches and protests across the country, would make the government realise students are prepared to fight to keep their bursaries.
“It’s only for an hour but students hold the NHS together, we have filled in the gaps through the nurse staffing crisis. Without us it will be felt,” she said.
Ms Tiplady, who is a student nurse at King’s College London, said: “We work really hard, are given all the extra jobs that nurses don’t have the time to do.
“It’s really insulting to take the bursary away from us for what we do and how dedicated we are to the profession, the patients and the NHS,” she said.
“The government need to realise they are risking the future workforce and this walkout is symbolic of that,” she added.
“There are quite a lot of times…that students are used in place of having health care assistants and registered nursing staff there”
Student nurse Anthony Johnson, who also helped to organise the walkout, pointed to recent figures from the Royal College of Nursing that showed that in London NHS nurse vacancies have been rising in recent years, to 17% in 2015.
He said the staffing crisis would only get worse if the reforms were brought in, adding that the quality of placements would also be reduced.
“Throughout the entire NHS there are staffing issues. I think personally there are quite a lot of times – and all nurses know this and all students know this – that students are used in place of having health care assistants and registered nursing staff there,” he said.
He added: “So, even though we are supposed to be supernumerary, as this staffing crisis goes on and becomes worse, there is damage done to the registered workforce which also affects our learning and placements too.
“This [walkout] is a symbolic statement that says if the ward was able to run effectively without us, there wouldn’t need to be statements made by some areas of the profession that students should have to consult with their placements because of the implications for the clinical setting,” said Mr Johnson.
The walkout has received support from unions Unison and Unite, although the latter has advised those taking part to arrange their lunch hour over the walkout time.
”If the ward was able to run effectively without us, there wouldn’t need to be statements made by some areas of the profession that students should have to consult with their placements [before walking out]”
But unions the Royal College of Midwives and Royal College of Nursing have warned against possible consequences of walking out, reminding students this was not industrial action.
A spokesman for the RCM told Nursing Times it would “encourage student midwives on clinical placements to discuss any plans with their lecturer and mentor, and to have regard to both the implications for qualification and the clinical setting”.
The RCN last week advised its student members to “carefully consider the implications” of taking part, noting it could jeopardise receipt of their current bursary and reminding them they would lose “important clinical placement hours that are needed to complete their nursing course”.
But in response to these warnings, Ms Tiplady told Nursing Times that the short length of time the walkout was planned for meant students should be able to make up this extra hour, if required, at a later point in their placement.
She also said she believed that if students had spoken with their mentors in advance and gained their support then this should not jeopardise their bursary arrangements.
Tomorrow’s walkout across the country, arranged by the campaign group Save NHS bursaries, has been planned to coincide with the junior doctors’ strike over contracts and working conditions.
It is part of a week of activities about the bursary removal plans, which also include posting messages on Twitter on Sunday using the #LoveNHS hashtag.