‘I work 40 hours with no recognition or money’: Why student nurses are on strike today

‘I do not want to leave patients without care, but I simply have to for there to be a slight chance of change happening’


“I often feel I leave a shift feeling like I haven’t done the best for my patients and that’s a horrible feeling,” Esme says. She’s just back after an almost 13 hour unpaid shift – something she’s done for up to 40 hours a week for the past eight weeks.

However, today Esme won’t be on a ward. She is one of hundreds of university student nurses joining picket lines as she goes on strike as part of the largest nursing strike in NHS history.

Members of The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are taking part in strikes today and next Tuesday (20th December) amid an ongoing pay dispute with the government.

Much of the media discourse has revolved around the union’s demands for a 19 per cent pay rise (five per cent above inflation) against the government’s offer of five per cent.

However, student nurses are simply not paid to begin with. And whilst this is because their time on ward is part of their placement, students have told The Tab, staff are so stretched their training is being disregarded leaving them to manage an overwhelming number of patients.

“Today I am striking because the NHS is falling apart,” 19-year-old Eva told The Tab.

Eva and Esme are both second year students at the University of West of England (UWE). Both students have wrestled with the idea of striking but feel they have no choice but to take part.

Eva (L) and Esme (R)

“The feeling of leaving your patients and not being there to care for them is a scary thought and one that makes you feel an immense amount of guilt,” Esme confessed. “But I have decided to strike and that’s because I feel like this is my only option. The only way I can make people listen. 

“I want to see a change. I am sick of seeing the nurses struggling, and it’s about time something is done to stop this. They save people’s lives at the end of the day, how can you sit there and say they don’t deserve it.”

The lack of staff is not just manifesting in higher wait times for patients and lower quality care. For student nurses, the impact means they are missing out on vital training.

“Nurses don’t have the time to teach students, and they do not have enough staff to teach students,” Eva said.

The students say they are often made to plug the gaps as healthcare assistants, a job which involves helping nurses with menial roles and requires no formal qualification.

“I remember one shift in particular,” Esme explained. “I had arrived and there were no healthcare assistants. Immediately the staff in charge assumed that I would take on that role and I had to care for more than nine patients alone i.e. washing and dressing patients, changing pads and serving meals.

“Not once did anyone help me. That shift I was meant to be working with another nurse and achieving my student nursing goals.”

Eva said she’s striking ‘because the NHS is falling apart’

Eva added: “As a student nurse, you are meant to be allocated a mentor who you spend your placement block with, you are meant to be taught and provide all care that the nurse does, this is what we want.

“But instead we are used in the numbers where we are healthcare support workers doing personal care, feeding support, giving out food, taking patients to the toilet.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love doing this but I did not pay £28,500 for a nursing degree to not be taught correctly and safely for when I qualify.”

Not only are the current student nurses risking being undertrained when they qualify, the problem is exacerbated by an overall fall in the number of students accepted to become future nurses.

Last week, new figures from UCAS showed a 10 per cent fall in the number of students accepted onto nursing courses this year. The number of student applications also fell from 59,860 in 2021 to 56,155 in 2022.

Eva warned fellow students to do their research thoroughly if they are considering studying nursing because “it is far from sunshine and roses”.

Both students feel exploited by not being paid for their work. “I will work up to 40 hours this week with no recognition and no money in the bank,” Eva said.

She added: “I want student nurses to be paid, I want student nurses to have recognition. I want staff nurses to have a pay rise, I want more staff, I want to be taken seriously.

“I want a CHANGE!”

“If I’m being honest, being a student nurse is hard. Really hard,” Esme said. “Not just the early mornings, or the long shifts. It’s how we are treated and the situations we deal with day in day out.

“But a part of me still wants to fight for us because of the feeling I get when nursing is good. 

“That rewarding feeling when you make a patient laugh after days of being really ill and that feeling of joy when your patient is discharged and can go home to their family. 

“Don’t get me wrong it’s hard but those good days are what makes me want to fight for what is right and what we deserve.”

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