‘Doing 12-hour shifts for free is inhumane’: Student nurses on why they deserve to be paid

‘I was so overwhelmed, they offered me a session with a psychologist’

Student nurses are among one of the very few degree courses allowed to return to university campus this semester. Alongside medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and other health related studies, the government have prioritised the return of student nurses as their training is essential in paving the future of public-sector positions.

Within their degree course, student nurses are required to complete hundreds of hours of voluntary hospital placement. As the NHS is stretched even further in the ongoing pandemic, nurses are being put on high-risk Covid wards to help cope with the rising number of coronavirus cases. They are undergoing extremely stressful circumstances, putting their own health at risk and completing tasks that trained nurses would do and yet, they are still not being paid for their placement hours.

At the end of last year, a petition was created to push for paid placements. To date, the petition has over 47,000 signatures. The petition descriptor argues that student nurses deserve to be paid on placement “as working with COVID-19 for free is detrimental to the future nursing workforce.” The link to the petition can be found here.

At the end of November last year, the government responded to the petition. The governmental department of health and social care said: “Clinical placements provide supervised training. Student nurses are not paid but receive financial support to train through student loans and non-repayable maintenance grant of at least £5,000 a year.”

Despite the government’s added financial support, many students believe this is not enough to balance the risks, pressures and long hours that come with completing placement throughout a pandemic. The Tab spoke to some of the student nurses risking their lives every day on why they believe they deserve to be paid.

I was so overwhelmed, they offered me a session with a psychologist

Erin, a final year student nurse, reflected on her experience of placement during the first lockdown when she worked on a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit.

She explained how hard placement could be at times: “When my patients deteriorated I was involved in emergency situations which really scared me. I was worried that I wasn’t trained enough to be working on this unit because we hadn’t been on the wards for so long due to being pulled out at the start of lockdown.

“I was overwhelmed and found it hard to talk about as none of my course friends were on similar placements; being away from my family the whole times made it worse as well. The only comfort was the unit provided support and once our contract ended, I was offered a session with the unit’s psychologist to talk through any of these situations I had been in.”

Alexandria, a second year studying Children’s Nursing also had sessions with professional health support after completing placement. She told The Tab: “I myself have struggled with anxiety and low mood before the pandemic for multiple reasons, but everything that has happened within the last year has definitely made it worse.

“Placement exacerbates my anxiety symptoms because it’s a new situation every time. With the fear of bringing Covid into my household and the high demand stress of placement right, it’s been really tough.”

The long placement hours make it near-impossible to have a part-time job

First year student nurse, Hannah, explained how time-consuming placement is, leaving no option for casual work. She said: “I do believe we should be paid as the cost of travel and parking is a lot. Also, the time placement takes out of your week, makes it hard to have a part-time job on the side. I leave the house at 6am and get back at 9pm, have a shower and then go to bed.”

The government don’t comprehend how much we are helping the NHS

Alexandria told The Tab how underappreciated she feels student nurses often are. She explained: “On paper, it just seems like we go onto placement as part of our course to learn firsthand about the clinical side of being a nurse. However, there is so much more to placement than that. Most of the time there are three nurses to 15 patients, so we’re not just watching to learn, we’re preparing meds, cleaning patients, finding equipment from other departments that we’ve run out of. We do so much, and it just goes unnoticed by the government.”

Placement takes so much out of us, knowing there’s no financial gain is hard to accept

“Doing 12.5-hour shifts for free doesn’t sound humane at all” Alexandria told us. She continued: “Some of the mature students have children that they struggle to arrange childcare for – especially now because of social distancing from family members.

“My course friends and I find that it can be very mentally draining and sometimes I have come home crying after a shift. I love what I do, but sometimes after a long day it leaves you so tired and there’s nothing else to do but cry it out. Knowing that there’s no financial gain from all the work we put in is a hard pill to swallow, especially in the pandemic.”

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