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1 December 2020

A new UK-wide study called ‘Cov-ed Nurse’ is to be conducted to investigate the impact on student nurses during university studies and placements before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study is lead by the Oxford School of Nursing and Midwifery at Oxford Brookes University, which has received a research grant of £618,324 from the Economic and Social Research Council (ERSC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19. Participants will be sampled across the United Kingdom and record video diaries detailing their day to day experiences as well as completing a short survey. The research team will also be conducting detailed interviews each individual nurse. Nurses who are interested in taking part should register online on the project website. 

Speaking about their experiences during the global pandemic a student nurse studying in London who spoke to us stated she had felt nervous about starting her placement and potentially catching COVID-19 as well as feeling pressured by her trust to take part in a testing system trial, despite it being voluntary. She was also concerned about whether she would be able to spend Christmas with her family due to the risks of potentially passing on the virus to vulnerable family members. 

Furthermore an Oxford Brookes student paediatrics nurse, who wishes to remain anonymous, spoke to us about his experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, “I started my placement at the start of the academic year, when the health visiting service was being rebuilt due to the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This service was paused during the first lockdown causing a major reduction of patient time and I as a student nurse had less time dealing with patients which I feel has had a negative effect during my degree.” He also said “I returned to University for my second year and us as student nurses found out the location of our placements one week before they were due to start, rather than four weeks in advance due to Occupational Health performing more health checks and delaying the placement process.”

Danielle Jones, a student nurse wrote online about her frustration with her placement and lack of support during her studies at King’s College, London; “Student nurses need to complete 2300 hours of theory and 2300 hours of placement....Thanks to Covid, first-year nurses had their second placement of the year cancelled, leaving us all short of hours we need to complete our degrees… We were informed that we would be going out on placement by the end of September to allow us to catch up on the hours we missed last year. While this is completely necessary, King’s pushed back giving us our placement allocations until Monday the 14th of September.” Jones also writes about the implications on student nurses who need the allotted two week period to organise child care around their hours during placement and their lessons.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education spoke about the issues student nurses face said: “We are grateful to all students who choose to support our NHS during this extremely difficult time and will be ensuring all students who do opt in are rewarded fairly for their hard work."

Dr Mary Malone, Director of the Oxford School of Nursing and Midwifery at Oxford Brookes and the principal investigator said: “Student nurses are a vital part of the NHS response to this pandemic. It’s essential we understand more about how effective their educational experiences were in preparing them for this huge challenge. Learning how student nurses can be best supported and prepared for practice must make a difference to how teaching is delivered in the future.”

The Oxford School of Nursing and Midwifery is a partnership between Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford University NHS Foundation Trust and Oxford Brookes University who have support from Oxford Academic Health Partners. Among the Universities participating in the study is King’s College, London. President of the Royal College of Nursing and Professor of Nursing Policy at King’s College, London, Professor Dame Anne Marie Rafferty said “The pandemic has accelerated thousands of student nurses entering the workplace. We can learn from their experiences and develop their education, to support them make the transition and stay the course once they qualify.”

A previous survey conducted by NursingNotes looked into the experience of student nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was found that students working in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland reported more positive experiences than those working in England. Student nurses working in England stated they felt unsupported, nor did they have access to the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) contrasting the experience of student nurses in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales who felt supported and safe working in a clinical area. The majority of students felt they were supported by their placement and achieved their required learning outcomes. However, despite this positivity an overwhelming amount of students felt during the first wave of the pandemic that they were worried about catching the virus and subsequently potentially spreading it to their friends and family with half saying they wouldn’t choose to do this again due to the lack of support and the negative impact on their degrees.

Anthony Johnson, a nurse and lead organiser for Nursed United UK said about these findings, “Even before the pandemic a third of our students didn’t complete on time or at all. “When you create a marketised system, that sees students as numbers on a spreadsheet paying to work, we shouldn’t be surprised when they say that this is how it makes them feel. “Students need a Living Bursary, but more than that we need to treat them with compassion and stop ignoring them when they signal they need help. Because we all do right now”

Due to this negative impact on their studies “THE Press” called for the UK government for scrap university tuition fees for student nurses, paramedics and midwives who have paid £9,250 in tuition fees during the pandemic, despite being unpaid during their placements.

Oxford Brookes has built a team of senior researchers from the university who will contribute to Cov-ed Nurse: Professor Jane Appleton, Professor Eila Watson, Dr Cathy Henshall and Dr Zoe Davies and Dr Jo Brett. The study will also include experts from University of Birmingham, University of Dundee, Cardiff University, Coventry University, King’s College London, Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Ulster. The Royal College of Nursing and Midwifery Council will be a part of the advisory group. The COV-ed nurse study begins in November 2020.

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