Coronavirus: Student nurses 'at risk' without insurance on placement

By Rachel Stonehouse
Newsbeat Reporter

Published
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"It's really scary. You don't know what you're going to face everyday," Lizzy tells Newsbeat.

She's a student nurse and is on placement at the moment. Like many others working in a hospital right now, she's finding it tough.

But the difference for Lizzy and other student nurses and midwives is they've not been getting paid.

This means they don't have any insurance if they catch coronavirus either.

"There's a lot of anxiety and stress for students working unpaid placements right now. Covid is worse than it's ever been, especially with the new strain," Lizzy says.

"We should be paid, because without it we have no life insurance protection for death in service."

Lizzy is one of a number of students Newsbeat has spoken to, who thinks they need better protection while on placement.

What happened before?

During the first wave of the pandemic in 2020 students could either opt out of hospital placements, or join the NHS under paid contracts.

This then meant they were covered by the The NHS and Social Care Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme which was set up in recognition of the extra risk front line workers face during the crisis, with families offered a payment of £60,000 if an NHS or social care worker dies from coronavirus, contracted at work.

But for students, paid contracts ended in September when pressure on the health service initially eased.

Yesterday the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) announced final year nursing students can be paid for placements again, but it'll be up to local governments to decide. The NMC also announced those in their first year can opt to move entirely to online or academic learning.

But some students Newsbeat has been talking to say this doesn't go far enough.

'There should be absolute protection'

A student midwife - who doesn't want to be named - has raised her concerns in an open letter she's shared on social media.

"I wrote to NHS Health Education England about the fact we aren't covered by the NHS coronavirus life insurance at the moment," she tells Newsbeat.

"Right now, the number of cases and deaths are higher than they've been during the whole pandemic.

"So for all students who are working on placements and putting themselves at risk, there should be absolute protection."

She didn't want to give her name because she's fearful of any impact it might have, but wanted to speak out to raise awareness of the situation.

"While this latest announcement by the NMC is good news, its still not enough and we will keep pushing for action.

"For me this isn't about the money. We are so proud to be part of the NHS and want to be working and doing what we can to help in the pandemic, but we all deserve cover while we are doing it."

She says she's yet to get a response to her letter.

'We're putting our lives at risk'

James, who's a second year student nurse, says people like him have been at a "massive risk."

"If anything was to happen, we'd be left without the protections a qualified nurse would get," he says.

"The universities are supporting us, but there are certain limitations to what they can provide, and we need the reassurance of knowing we are protected"

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) told Newsbeat it was "immensely grateful" for the work of student nurses during the pandemic.

"While they are in clinical training, they should be an addition to the normal team and undertake clinical learning under supervision,"

"Individuals who are not automatically eligible (for the Coronavirus Life Assurance scheme) can still be considered."

The DHSC says the Health and Social Care Secretary can look at individual cases when someone isn't automatically eligible.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionStudent nurses in their third year will be given pay and protection, first years can opt out of placement

But for Lizzy, she says the stress and anxiety is taking its toll, with this adding more pressure.

"It's so busy right now. We're doing long shifts and it's exhausting. At times it does feel quite overwhelming.

"Essentially we are putting our lives at risk with no backing or benefit".

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