We recognise that health systems across the UK are under pressure, creating some difficulties for student placements and raising questions about the contribution healthcare students can make to the national Covid effort.
Discussions between the NHS, the four UK governments and the professional regulators are ongoing. In meetings with these bodies the Council continues to represent its member universities’ position:
- Our healthcare students and academic staff have demonstrated resilience, flexibility and bravery during this pandemic. Many students are already out on placement helping to support patient care. Some also opt to work as healthcare support workers in their own time. Healthcare academics are striving to deliver critical programmes in a context of staff shortages, sickness, absence and fatigue.
- Our priority is to ensure that students progress through their courses and qualify on time as competent professionals. Any policies that threaten to disrupt student progression should be implemented only as measures of last resort. Student progression is important for the health and social care system in the longer term and allows universities to prepare to recruit and educate the next cohort of students. Student progression and completion is vital if we are to meet Government workforce targets.
- We are at an earlier point in the academic year than we were last Spring; fewer students are close to graduation and some are still catching up after programme changes last year. We know that many students were glad to be able to contribute to national efforts through paid placements last year, but these arrangements also led to confusion, implementation challenges and programme disruption.
- Students require placement experience to progress. Universities already work with providers to respond to service pressures; there is some flexibility to increase or decrease the number of students on placement as required. The NHS should however be strongly encouraged to continue to support supervised student placements wherever possible.
- Regulatory flexibility is required to help keep programmes running. The Council welcomes the additional flexibility introduced by the NMC this week on supervision and assessment. We will continue to work with the NMC and HCPC to discuss the needs of our members.
- Though pressure is being felt across the UK, there is national and regional variation in the incidence of Covid. Arrangements should be sensitive to these variations and provide flexibility for healthcare education to respond to the needs of nations, regions and localities.
- It is universities that are ultimately accountable to regulators for the delivery of healthcare programmes. Universities already work closely with health and social care providers so are well placed to respond to providers’ needs. Any further policy measures must be administratively straightforward and responsive to both local service needs and individual student circumstances. We believe that universities are best placed to organise student placements and help ensure that student expectations are met.
- If academic progress is disrupted by this pandemic, universities will do everything they can to help students to complete their studies on time. We call on governments to guarantee that no healthcare student will be financially disadvantaged by unavoidable programme disruption or delays.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council has been asked by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in England to introduce emergency standards to allow final year nursing students to enter paid placements. These emergency standards were introduced on 14 January. The decision to use this provision will be a matter for national governments. Within England, universities will work with service partners to decide whether paid placements should be introduced for their students. Where this is implemented locally, students will be given the choice to opt-in or retain supernumerary status. The Council believes that this flexibility helpfully reflects differences in the impact of Covid on local services. We support the decision to give individual universities oversight of these arrangements.