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Student nurses should be paid 'living wage' while on placement, says union


Calls for student nurses to be paid the living wage for the work they do on placements have been made by union members at Unison’s annual healthcare conference.

Trainee nurses and all other healthcare students should be paid this money to stop them from being treated as “free labour” while completing required practical work at trusts, said union members yesterday at the conference in Liverpool.

“Students end up working as bar staff. We really should be ashamed of ourselves”

Elizabeth Rankin

The introduction of a living wage for students would also reduce the financial burden placed on them by entering training, they added.

Union members noted that healthcare students often worked 37.5 hours on a rotational shift while on placement, which prevented many from taking part-time jobs to help pay for their rent and other maintenance costs.

Members from Unison’s NHS Glasgow Clyde and CVS branch, which moved the motion, said students often saw their debts escalating to a high level as a result.

Elizabeth Rankin, a member of the branch, also said the bursaries offered to  students for living costs were too low.

She said the £6,578 annual non-means tested bursary given to students in Scotland was not enough to survive on, adding that students in England and Wales were even worse off because they only received a £1,000 non means-tested bursary.

Ms Rankin said this forced some students into taking on paid jobs, adding: “They [students] end up working as bar staff, and by working 15,25 or 35 hours a week on top….We really should be ashamed of ourselves.”

Conference delegates passed the motion to launch a campaign for a living wage for students on placement and also supported calls for a living bursary to be paid for students as an interim measure.




Readers' comments (50)

  • The idea that someone is expected to attend placement for a minimum of 35.7 hours per week as well as the occasional trip to university on the current bursary and student finance alone is ridiculous. Then we have to factor in travel expenses!

    I am lucky enough to live with a partner that is able to cover the majority of our financial responsibilities, however some aren't as fortunate. Before I started my training I had no idea how bad things would get. I have been in the position several times where I didn't know how I was getting to placement one day from the next. Admittedly, student nurse life would be made much easier if I drove, but I don't. And people shouldn't feel like they have to drive to survive their degree.

    I am not for one minute saying that student nurse pay should be on par with those who are qualified, however I am suggesting that the number of students completing the course would increase dramatically if the funding was there for them to do so. I know of many people I started my course with that have had to step off due to financial issues directly related to university/bursary funding.

    There are schemes in place such as reimbursement for travel expenses, however these come with catches such as - you may only claim for the difference in any distance travelled which is further than your regular journey to university - which when you work it out, doesn't add up to all that much in most cases.

    There have been times that I've found myself seriously doubting that I would be able to complete the course. I work part time when not on placement however due to shift patterns and hours of work I have to put myself on leave from this employment to attend placement, which I don't have a problem with. However, it is simply not compatible with keeping yourself afloat finance wise.

    There are people who have children - although they do receive some childcare funding - and those who have to run a home on their own without the support of anyone and without alternative living arrangements and it is these people I really feel for, it is these people who are having to drop out of university in order to keep a roof over their heads or to put food on the table.

    Three years may not seem like a long time to balance the books, but sometimes it is just not possible. Yes it will all be worth it in the end, but what's it worth if you never make it due to money worries?

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  • Having been a student nurse for 2 years, I have had to take a years leave from my degree due to financial struggle.

    I recieved 1,000 pounds a year from my bursary and I claimed a loan but that didn't even cover my petrol, parking and car maintenance costs when we are expected to get to placements all over the county.

    I rent a house and I am unable to claim anymore money for it. I ended up being signed off with stress and I was exhausted. I took on a part time job and worked shifts that worked around my placements shifts. This is very difficult when you are expected to work every shift pattern on placements.

    I am now unsure I will be able to return to University this September to complete my degree due to the financial struggle and this idea is such a good one and would student nurses considerably.

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  • I completely agree that we do not recieve enough money to live off of, myself included as a third year student. However my only worry would be is that more people would be encouraged to embark upon nursing just for the money they recieve whilst studying. There are, unforetunately, enough staff employed within the NHS that do not deserve to be there.

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  • I am a second year nursing student who is also a single parent.

    During placements, I not only have to work 37.5 hours per week meaning I have to either source free childcare (namely grandparents or friends) or pay for before and after school clubs, in addition to travel costs and parking (because as a student we don't have the luxury of staff parking).

    I am lucky that I am entitled to receive a bursary to assist my ability to study, I am also grateful that the Government assist me by means of Housing Benefit because I rent my house. However, I still haemorrhage money each month because the general cost of living, not only during placement but times when I'm at University. I'm sad to say that this month, along with many others are a struggle financially.

    On the flip side, my child is seeing me work hard to achieve something and is proud that 'mum is going to be a nurse' regardless of the lack of birthday/Christmas presents, holidays and other luxuries that normal families have. I would love additional financial support, but it's not the be all or end all, I wouldn't change what I am doing for anything in the world!

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  • I'm a second year student paediatric nurse and if my parents hadn't bailed me out more times than I can count I would've dropped out a year and a half ago. I'm lucky they are able to do so, however I have two siblings who still live at home and my Dad has to live 2 hours away from the family home so he can do his job to be able to pay my rent and cover the difference between the money I get and my expenses. I love my degree and I'm trying to apply for agency/bank staff at the hospital but even that isn't easy. When I'm in uni life is slightly easier but it's still no bed of roses. My housemates aren't nursing students and always seem to able to shop at the posher supermarkets while I'm waiting till the cheap shops mark down the food even cheaper.

    I know the economy isn't great right now but the staffing crisis in the NHS is even worse and without helping nursing students, it seems like it's only going to get worse.

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  • I think we, as nursing students, are fortunate to receive a bursary. But as pointed out, it is not a bursary to ensure a standard of living. I know this is part of the "student experience" but at least students in other courses are able to take out a student loan to support themselves financially without having to depend on other people or put their future career on hold. Why should money prevent you doing something you love? Is it possible to have placement to coincide with a part time job? Raise our bursary? Allow nursing students to take a student loan? A change is perhaps needed.

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  • Maybe it's time that the nursing degree was the same as all the other degrees and you have to pay for it instead of having it paid for. Then you would be able to get a maitenance loan and the fees that accompany it! My daughter is training to be a primary school teacher and has placements a long way from her Uni. She also does not drive so has to fund this herself. I have to support her financially on my nurses wages and she will of course have huge debts to pay off once she does start working unlike student nurses who once through the 3 years do not have these debts. Although I appreciate it's a hard 3 years for student nurses you at least have the knowledge that you will keep all your hard earned wages once you qualify. Most students need financial support from family whilst studying this is the way it is now. My daughter certainly cannot shop at the expensive supermarkets.

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  • Whilst studying my adult nursing degree, I worked two jobs alongside a 40hr placement week. Which meant in total I was working 75hr+ order to simply survive, this did not account for any social activities! Yes, there is the argument that by increasing funding, nursing will start to attract the wrong people, but surely then funding isn't the issue? The issue is ensuring student recruitment is more rigorous than it is now.
    My training was some of the most painful and tiring years I have had to endure; which I'm sure would have been eased had a living allowance been paid to me. The stigma and consensus attached to working for 'free' I'm sure would too be alleviated with proper funding. Money aside, student nurses are too often counted in numbers and not taught and treated as students.

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  • I had completed 1/2 my training during the approx £6,000 dipHE days, but due to bereavement I stepped down. I later had a successful application to study at grad. level on a PgDip programme. However, I would not be entitled to a loan, and would have had abt £4,500 total to live on. I was late 30s and living independently. As I could not secure housing that was relevant to my independent status (if I lived in halls, I would have had to pay for storage for personal items), and due to the patchy quality and variety of courses, I decided to leave it be.

    Just a thought - I am a working class person by history, culture and income. Part of my family lived in a cellar in Liverpool during the 19th century. On the student nursing money that I would have to live on, I would not have been able to afford to live in that cellar now.

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  • Regarding nursing becoming like any other degree re-funding: - at present we rely on nurses from less wealthy/poor countries, and do not pay for their training or compensation their country for using their intellectual and creative resource - I think we would end up with an even greater recruitment problem. Also, those who leave the country to work abroad may actually choose to train abroad to start with, thereby enabling them to gain valuable foundational experience in both the system and country. Certainly, I feel that oversees nurses who have been trained within the region that they work in are more equipped to deal with institutional challenges than those who have relocated - at least in the early years.

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