As the pandemic continues to place untold strain in the NHS, student nurses can once again opt into extended clinical placements to assist with the pandemic response.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) yesterday reintroduced emergency education standards to allow final year nursing students to use extended clinical placements to support the UK’s pandemic response.

The measures were first put in place in March 2020 the NMC introduced emergency standards to allow more flexibility to be applied to the delivery of nursing and midwifery programmes. It enabled students in their second and third years to undertake extended clinical placements, making a valuable contribution to the response to the Covid-19 pandemic as part of their programmes. Those emergency standards were withdrawn in September 2020 and replaced with recovery standards as Covid infection rates dropped but have now been reintroduced as the current surge in cases continues to strain NHS services.

Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Executive of the NMC, said that the decision was made with a “heavy heart”. Explaining the measures in her regular NMC blog, Ms Sutcliffe said: “It’s not a decision we’ve taken lightly. In fact, I’d go as far as to say this is a decision I hoped we wouldn’t need to make at all. Student education is precious and ensuring the next generation of professionals are equipped with the skills they need is a responsibility I take extremely seriously.

“Before making our decision, we spoke to our partners to understand their views and concerns. Concerns we absolutely recognise. But we have to balance those concerns with what is happening right now in health and care services. After careful consideration and with a heavy heart we agreed to the request to make these changes.”

Responding to the news Mark Radford, Chief Nurse at Health Education England (HEE) and Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for England said: “Students made difficult choices in the initial phase of the pandemic to volunteer for paid placement or not.  I am proud of each of them and the choice they made.

“We have since worked with Universities to support those students to catch up the education and training they missed. Our role is to balance support for the students individually and collectively, be there when the NHS needs us most, and ensure a future pipeline of newly qualified nurses with as little delay as possible. ” 

On 13 January 2021, the NMC received a letter from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, supported by the Chief Executive of the NHS in England, requesting that the emergency standards be reintroduced in relation to final year nursing students only, so that they can support the response to Covid-19, where they wish to. 

Navina Evans, HEE Chief Executive, said:  “Implementing this decision will be challenging. HEE will work with partners to take the right measures to support students wherever they work and provide them with the education and training resources they need to pursue their careers as quickly as possible.”