Safeguarding education

By Charlotte Wilson, Policy Advisor and Carmel Lloyd, Head of Education and Learning on 15 January 2021 Maternity Safety Covid-19 Student midwives

Royal College of Midwives response to the Nursing and Midwifery Council decision to reintroduce emergency standards

As midwifery students, you are one of our most vital resources, the future of our profession. The past year has been extremely challenging, with studies disrupted and for some, graduation delayed. As your trade union and professional association, we want to do all we can to safeguard your education and ensure that your studies pave the way for a successful start as newly qualified midwives.

Deployment of nursing students

On 14 January 2021, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) agreed to introduce an emergency standard which relates to final year nursing students only. This decision was made in response to a request from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, following the NHS in England moving  to a level five alert, which means there is a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days unless action is taken.

Although this decision by the NMC, at the request of Matt Hancock, applies to third year nursing students only,  the implementation of this standard would only be applied on a case-by-case basis, depending on the level of need in each NHS. So in some cases the standard would not be utilised and where and when it is utilised it will only be for as long as the situation requires it. All students who opt into a paid placement will still be required to complete all the learning outcomes as well as the academic and practice components of their course, which in some cases may delay  the completion of their programme.

Supporting midwifery students to continue their education

The RCM believes the reintroduction of this emergency standard would significantly disadvantage student midwives, both in terms of further disruption to your education and your safety.

Safety – whether of maternity staff or the women in their care – is always the RCM’s top priority. We know that services are under huge pressure at the moment, with more pregnant women presenting with COVID-19 and an increase in ITU admissions for pregnant women. In this context, students who are employed (and who are not supernumerary) are more likely to be required to perform tasks they are not comfortable with or to have less supervision. This represents a risk to women and to you. The risk to students is particularly acute, as the consequences of error where a student is not supernumerary can be more complicated.

We know that this pandemic has caused significant and continuing disruption to your education. As a result, through no fault of your own, many of you may be behind in your studies. We don’t want to see this further compounded by taking you away from education – not least because we are relying on you as our future workforce.

Financial considerations

We know that students across the country have also been hit financially by the pandemic – and we can understand why the idea of a paid placement is attractive in that context. We strongly believe that the benefits to your ongoing education and training outweigh this, as set out above.

We also believe that midwifery students have been given a poor deal by the Government. We will continue to lobby them and other relevant bodies strenuously for better conditions and protections for student midwives. This will include, but is not limited to:

  • Continuing to demand an immediate review of financial support for all midwifery, nursing, and allied healthcare students, with a view to introducing maintenance grants which reflect actual student need.
  • Continuing to demand the abolition of student-funded tuition fees for all nursing, midwifery, and allied healthcare students.
  • Continuing to demand the reimbursement of tuition fees (or forgiveness of debt) for all current and recently graduated nursing, midwifery, and allied healthcare students.
  • Continuing to demand assurances that students will continue to have access to their learning support fund or bursary should their studies be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Comprehensive mental health support for student midwives.

We also wish to reassure students that in terms of protection they should have access to appropriate PPE, the coronavirus vaccine and  the NHS & Social Care Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme as stated by Health Education England


To read the NMC’s statement on the introduction of emergency standards click here.

To read the Department of Health and Social Care’s request to the NMC click here.

To read the NMC’s response to the Department of Health and Social Care click here.

You can find more information about common concerns in the student Q&As on the RCM website.

You may also want to visit Health Education England’s (HEE) website, to read HEE’s letter to students and FAQs about the current situation.