An Upward Battle: Nursing Students and COVID-19

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A Upward Battle: Nursing Students and COVID-19

Roar writer Danielle Jones on her experiences as an Adult Nursing student during the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s response to the ongoing medical crisis.

As a first-year Adult Nursing BSc student, the last few months have been rough. During my final days of placement, the ward I was working on – unpaid, of course – had around half a dozen COVID-19 patients. To top it off, I had only the bare minimum training in the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

This was terrifying as such an inexperienced student nurse, especially due to the lack of information coming from the government regarding transmission of the disease and who should be shielding. Many healthcare assistants and nurses on my ward were terrified of infecting vulnerable loved ones with the Coronavirus, creating a culture of fear in an otherwise supportive team.

To make matters worse, as we finished our first placement we were informed that our second placement for the year was to be cancelled. While this was completely understandable due to the scarcity of PPE and the nature of the support needed from registered nurses to aid our learning, it left every student nurse in limbo.

Student nurses need 2300 hours of teaching and 2300 hours of practice to graduate and receive the pins they will operate under as registered nurses. Cancelling a placement leaves us over 300 hours short, and KCL has not provided answers as to how or when those hours will be made up. Some have suggested cutting our already short summers even shorter – most nurses finish the academic year at the end of July, far later than other courses – or extending our course beyond 3 years. This would place a huge financial burden on students already paying full tuition fees, and who are often too busy to work paid jobs. For those who find the time, employers who accept flexible hours to accommodate our 40+ hour weeks and necessary study time are even rarer.

KCL has decided to teach two of our second-year modules through June and July in the hopes that our placements next year can be extended. These extended placements haven’t been confirmed, and are very much contingent on the absence of a second wave of COVID-19 infection in the UK. So, if you see a stressed-out student nurse, feel free to shout encouragement from a safe social distance.

While I’m only a student and my placement was already coming to an end as COVID began to sweep through the UK, the lack of government leadership and guidance has truly shocked me, and made me seriously think about whether or not I want to work for the NHS once I qualify. Many NHS staff are feeling disenfranchised. As Jenni Middleton said in a 2018 Nursing Times article, the NHS has run on the goodwill of its staff for a long time.

The NHS is there for us from cradle to grave, and most of its staff – from cleaners to cardiologists – are proud to work for it and serve the people of the UK 24/7, 365 days a year. However, every single NHS worker has been let down by the government. Boris Johnson missed out on opportunities to place a large order for ventilators with other European Union states, “putting Brexit over breathing” as the Guardian puts it, and secured gowns from Turkey that do not meet British safety standards.

Care homes, which are by nature home to some of society’s most vulnerable, were left crying out for PPE and were forced to accept residents returning from hospital without COVID swabs. Residents weren’t moved as the virus swept through such homes – one care home in Durham had 24 residents die while infected with the Coronavirus. When a COVID patient is admitted to hospital, the room is deep cleaned when they first arrive and are discharged. Care homes they simply do not have the staff and equipment to do this. I have watched the news, horrified as care home death numbers crept higher and higher, and wondered if it is possible to charge a Prime Minister with manslaughter based on the sheer negligence of leaving vulnerable people in virus-stricken homes.

I have to wonder if the NHS in its current form will even exist in two years when I (hopefully) graduate, given the burnt-up goodwill of the men and women who keep our hospitals, GP surgeries, care homes, and clinics running.

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