‘I have no time to eat, shower or look after myself’ – Life as a student nurse in Manchester
The NHS is facing its biggest crisis ever, with waiting times reaching record highs, serious staffing shortages, and alarming levels of poverty and suicide rates among staff.
This is the state of affairs in the institution that will employ many of our University’s aspiring nurses and midwives.
Students have told The Mancunion of extreme difficulties in balancing their placements, academic work, social life, self-care, and part-time jobs. Many have said they believe the university should be offering more support.
The NHS previously covered the majority of costs for aspiring healthcare professionals, with tuition fees completely paid for and bursaries provided to help with the cost of living.
The government replaced this system with student loans in 2017, arguing it would increase the number of nurses, as places were previously capped by what the NHS could afford. But applications have fallen by 29% since 2016, according to figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).
Coupled with long, gruelling and unpaid work placements, some students expressed the opinion that they feel they are essentially paying to work in the NHS for free.
One nurse who qualified from Manchester last year even told The Mancunion she had to use food banks during her final year.
The nurse, who chose not to be named, had applied for the University’s ‘hardship fund’ but was originally rejected because she had a part-time job and was told to work more hours.
She was also told she had to provide medical evidence that she couldn’t physically work anymore – despite doing around 60 hours and being in and out of the hospital for severe migraines.
She eventually got £700 which was just enough to cover her last two months of rent, but proving she was worthy of the fund was a long and difficult process.
The nurse said: “I was severely stressed and ended up in a financial crisis, even though I worked two jobs on top of my placement and had to live off food banks.
“I had to stay on into August to make up my hours and only had a one-week break between finishing university and starting full-time work.
“I made an appointment with the Students’ Union and after months of fighting I got £700 from the hardship fund, which was just enough to cover my last two months of rent.”
A second-year child nursing student also spoke to The Mancunion about the difficulties in finding a balance in university life during her course.
“My friends and I find it impossible to attend uni, do assignments, revise, go to our placement, go to our part-time jobs and our extra-curricular activities, as well as having a social life,” she said.
“Placement is tiring and everyone needs someone to talk to. I believe our lecturers could be that person but they honestly do not care. We witness horrible things day in and day out and there’s just no support whatsoever.”
Jenny Corcoran, a second-year child nursing student, said placement work is both rewarding and draining: “On some shifts, you go in and have a hectic day running around with not a minute to stop. On those days I have no time to eat, shower or look after myself – I’m too tired. It’s mentally draining.”
The structure of the nursing course gives its students a longer Easter break of around seven weeks and their final semester starts and finishes later than the majority of courses.
This means that with the final instalments of maintenance loans arriving in student’s bank accounts towards the end of April, student nurses have to make their loan last around two months longer than most students whose courses finish in early June.
Many contracts for university halls and student housing finish in late June or early July, forcing students to take on additional accommodation costs to attend their placement and complete the semester.
Sophie Loone, a second-year mental health nursing student, said: “I had to pay an extra £448.50 for four weeks in Oak House because my placement carried on until the end of July.
“This was £10 more than the normal weekly rate I was paying for Oak House. We all agree that we’d rather have just one week at Easter instead of seven so that placement starts earlier, meaning we finish earlier and don’t have to take on additional costs.”
Igor Placzkiewicz, a third-year adult nursing student, thinks the University should do more to support student nurses: “I think the University should support and push for student nurses to get some sort of payment for their work, even if it is just £3 an hour. This would reduce the stress of university so much, and would lead to more students signing up to study nursing and therefore more qualified nurses.”
A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “We wouldn’t dispute that this programme is academically and clinically challenging, but note the immense rewards that a career in nursing can offer.
“The University offers significant support mechanisms and also in Clinical Practice by our practice partners. It is also worth indicating that the nursing programme is planned around ensuring that nursing students have annual leave at times commensurate with the other undergraduate students; at Christmas, Easter and over the Summer. This is not always the case for students on nursing programmes elsewhere.
“Student nurses are not working for the NHS for free – they are receiving clinically based training – [they are] not working and are supernumerary. These outcomes are laid down in the 2018 NMC standards which all providers of nursing education need to subscribe and this is regulated by the professional body.
“Manchester offers specific additional funding which since 2017 nursing and midwifery students are eligible to apply for. Students can apply for funding for the additional weeks they work.
“We have a very robust student support mechanism which does signpost students to a range of sources of support.”
Photos: Garry Knight @ Flickr