TODAY the Daily Echo launches a campaign to persuade the government to scrap university tuition fees for student nurses risking their lives on coronavirus wards.

About 200 nursing students at the University of Southampton are among those who have left their training courses to perform frontline duties in hospitals - but are still having to find more than £9,250 to pay their course fees.

During the pandemic healthcare heroes have gone above and beyond their duty as they always have and always will.

Everyday NHS staff walk fearlessly into our hospitals to help fight a virus which threatens their own lives as much as their patients’.

They include a new generation of nurses, paramedics and midwives, experiencing their career firsts in the middle of an unprecedented international public health emergency. They are fighting a highly infectious invisible killer with no cure and no treatments.

The UK has become the first country in Europe to record more than 30,000 deaths linked to coronavirus.

Student nurses drafted into hospitals are classed as senior healthcare assistants and are paid a Band 4 NHS salary.

But every day they face situations which even the most experienced staff have never seen in their lifetime.

They are the final year students who signed up out of goodwill. And yet they are the same nurses paying £9,250 a year tuition fees for a degree course cut short by the Covid-19 crisis.

Southampton General Hospital referred all enquiries to the University of Southampton, which confirmed that 200 student nurses were currently on placement, including 148 who were working in the city.

In a statement the University of Southampton said: “Nursing students (final year plus second year) from the University of Southampton are currently on specialised placements as part of the national response to Covid which has been co-ordinated by Health Education England.

“These are specially-arranged assessed placements, counted as practice experience hours for the nursing programme, which will enable nursing students to complete the practical components of their course.

“Students have volunteered to take these special extended placements which are paid.

“The location of these are not specifically in Southampton but extend across the country as some students had the option of taking placements in closer proximities to their families.

“Although these students are paid, as Senior Healthcare Assistants in Nursing (Band 4 NHS contract) they are also continuing to pay their fees and receive student loans as they would under normal circumstances.

“Students are continuing to pay fees because they are still students and being fully supported by the University.

“Provision of these placements, together with ongoing professional and academic support to the students undertaking them, requires significant investment and resources by the University so fees help to pay for these and other important services.”

In a separate statement the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) added: “Student Nurses have chosen to do all they can with the skills and experience they have gained over the past few years of training to help out their colleagues on the frontline in a variety of settings.”

Until 2016-17, students studying a nursing degree received a bursary worth up to £16,454 a year. The bursary also met student tuition fees.

But in 2015 the government unexpectedly scrapped NHS bursaries and replaced them with tuition fees and loans.

Since then there has been a 23% reduction in applications for nursing courses in England.

According to the RCN, it is a key reason why hospitals began the pandemic critically short of nurses - and why thousands of students have now been rushed to the frontline before their courses have finished.

The fear of running up huge debts has deterred many good candidates from becoming a nurse. Those that have gone ahead now face starting a new career with a huge financial burden.

Starting in September all nursing students in England will get a £5,000-a-year maintenance grant. In addition, those who plan to work in areas with the greatest need, or in disciplines where there is a shortage, will receive another £3,000.

But that’s cold comfort for the thousands of student nurses currently coping with Covid-19.

Today the Daily Echo urges the government to scrap tuition fees for academic year 2019/20 for student nurses who have shown their dedication to the NHS by serving in the coronavirus pandemic.

If you agree it is unfair to ask student nurses to pay tuition fees while they care for sick and dying coronavirus victims in our hospitals please sign our petition by visiting the Parliament petitions website on or clicking this petition link.


Q Why are student nurses paying tuition fees?

Until 2016-17 students studying a nursing degree received a bursary worth up to £16,454 a year. The bursary also met student tuition fees.

But the bursary was scrapped and students had to apply for loans to cover their costs.

Q Aren't tuition fees being scrapped?

From the next academic year, starting in September 2020, all nursing students in England will get a £5,000-a-year maintenance grant. In addition, those who plan to work in areas with the greatest need or in disciplines where there is a shortage will receive another £3,000.

But this does not apply to the final year student nurses currently working in our hospitals.

Q Why are some students working in hospitals unpaid and others are employed?

When the coronavirus pandemic first started to affect the way our hospitals operate, many students - nurses in particular - found themselves at the epicentre as they completed the placement necessary to pass their degree.

It is something most student nurses, paramedics and midwives undertake as part of their training and consists of unpaid 12 hour shifts where they gain experience.

They are 'supernumerary' members of staff, meaning that the student will not, as part of their programme of preparation, be contracted by any person or body to provide nursing care.

So what happened?

As it became clearer that more support would be needed on the frontline, the government moved to employing students on a short contract.

One trust in Yorkshire said all clinical placements have been paused for student nurses and midwives unless they are part-way through an assessed placement as of March 2020. The trust said only a small number of these have remained on placement but there will be many nurses who faced the worst scenarios the pandemic has brought before the changes were announced, and many still on placement.

Back in early April, Ruth May, the chief nursing officer for England, held talks with universities to make nurses available as soon as possible.

She said third-year students would be moved "urgently" on to emergency clinical placement. They were to provide services as part of a final placement on their nursing course with an opportunity to upskill and work alongside supervisors. The nursing chief said all practice hours will contribute to their degree.

These third-year nursing students in final placement would be offered a temporary formal contract to move into an NHS healthcare position, earning a band 4 wage.

The chief could not give an official start date for students, meaning those already on placement would continue working for free until the contract was processed by their universities and hospitals alike.

The chief said: "COVID-19 is an established significant pandemic across the UK and globally. The services across health and care sectors are under extreme pressure and I am aware that this pressure will be exacerbated by staff shortages due to sickness, isolation and/or caring responsibilities.

"Nurses, midwives and nursing associates make up the largest group of registered healthcare professionals and although all professionals are equally important and valued, there are specific challenges to ensure the ongoing provision of a nursing and midwifery workforce within this emergency environment.

"I must stress that decisions have not been taken lightly and there has also been consideration of risks of potential unintended consequences and mitigation of them."