Q&As in response to the NMC joint statement on expanding the nursing and midwifery workforce in the coronavirus outbreak

Information to members correct as of December 2020

The RCM will be emailing monthly coronavirus updates to students. To ensure you receive the latest guidance and communication please ensure that your e-mail address is up to date and you have opted in to receiving RCM e-zines by logging into your RCM portal account and checking your preferences.

Concerns about disruption to education (including placements)

Your university will let you know which assignments you will need to complete. The NMC requires that you still meet all the learning outcomes of the programme as well as the required number of theory and practice hours. The universities and clinical placement providers are keen to assist you in getting your competencies signed off so you can complete your programme.

As staff may become sick, need to work in different ways or are required to self-isolate midwifery staffing shortages become more acute. This may mean that it will not be possible for you to continue on your allocated placement. However, as staffing levels will vary across services, each trust/health board is making individual decisions based on their workforce capacity, risk and appropriateness, and will, where possible, arrange a placement for you in another area of the maternity unit so you continue.

Your lecturers have considered how to address a temporary shortfall of placement opportunities. This involved changing the order of the delivery of the programme with a focus on lectures and written assignments over the spring and summer terms of 2020. Arrangements have now been made for you to return to your practice placements. This may mean that for the remainder of your programme you undertake more practice than theory but overall, you will still meet the required number of theory and practice hours on completion of your programme.

Where it is possible, your lecturers will replace practical with alternative assessment formats to enable you to complete them at home. As every programme is structured differently, and module learning outcomes vary, these adaptations will vary across programmes, year groups and, in some cases, individuals. Please keep in touch with your lecturers about the changes made at your university.

A lot of your programme content can be delivered online as effectively as face-to-face. Universities have adapted very quickly to using online teaching and have the required facilities and technology in place. If you and your lecturers are new to virtual learning, please be patient and give time for your lecturers and peers to work out what works best. That way you will be able to learn how to get the most out of each session.

It is important to stay in touch with your fellow students. You could do this by using social media platforms. It may be a good idea to set up a group chat with your classmates on WhatsApp, that way you can keep in touch and discuss issues as they arise.

Your lecturers recognise that a lot of online learning is challenging and as far as possible are making arrangements for there to be some face to face and in person contact as well, they are also available to you via email or online if you have any concerns. As COVID-19 still remains in circulation this is likely to be limited for the first term and you may not be able to undertake your clinical placements until the start of 2021. So, although you may undertake more online/theory hours in your first year, the remaining 2 years of your programme will have additional practice hours, so you can meet the necessary requirements.

The National Union of Students has some ‘Top Tips’ you may find helpful with studying on-line. 

Your lecturers and the midwives and other healthcare professionals who are supporting and supervising you in your practice placements are aware that you will have been unable to complete all the midwifery skills you would normally have completed by the end of Year 1. You will be provided with the level of support you need to achieve these skills and gain confidence and your continuous record of achievement will identify which skills from Year 1 you have still to achieve. It is likely that your practice placements in Year 2 will be extended so that you can catch up.

Everyone recognises that the graduation of midwives each year is of vital importance. Your university and placement providers are committed to working together to make sure that you can progress your studies during the pandemic. This will include helping as many students as possible to safely start and continue with their clinical placements. How individual universities respond to the pandemic will depend on local circumstances, it is likely that they will need to make different adjustments as the situation changes. Your lecturers will keep you informed of any changes that might be required.

Concerns about safety on placement

The government guidance includes a list of those who are clinically vulnerable and need to be stringent in following social distancing guidelines. There is also evidence that Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. If you have any concerns about your health and safety or feel you have not been appropriately risk assessed, please contact your local steward, health and safety representative, or the Royal College of Midwives.

Universities have a responsibility to continue to support students in practice. NHS organisations also need to be proactive in protecting workers and supporting them to feel safe and secure. If you are not equipped with adequate PPE, please inform your practice placement provider and university immediately. If the issue is not resolved please contact the Royal College of Midwives.

We expect UK governments to provide all midwifery students with an entitlement to life assurance in the event of a students’ death from exposure to COVID-19 on placement. Employers should work closely with the affected students’ families should the worst-case scenario occur.

Please note with regard to the situation in England and Northern Ireland, the RCM does not believe it is acceptable for governments to specify that eligibility for the Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme will be decided on a discretionary basis. We will continue to argue for more concrete assurances for students on this matter.

Students in England: The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care can exercise his discretion to consider cases from students who meet the appropriate eligibility criteria for the Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme. More information can be found at this link.

Students in Northern Ireland: The Minister for Health can exercise his discretion to consider cases from students who meet the appropriate eligibility criteria for the Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme.

Students in Wales: Students on placement and registered healthcare volunteers are eligible for the Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme in Wales. More information can be found at this link.

Students in Scotland: Students who undertake clinical placements on NHS premises as part of a programme of study are eligible for the Coronavirus life Assurance Scheme in Scotland. More information can be found at this link. (Please be aware the information at this link may not be up to date, we have been assured this information will be updated to reflect the agreed position with regard to students as soon as possible).

 

For the latest advice and guidance on car sharing for community placements during the COVID-19 pandemic click here

Concerns about financial support

Students in England: Students who have experienced unavoidable delays to their studies due to the COVID-19 pandemic should speak to their university, who can advise on the process for applying for additional funding through the NHS Business Service Authority where appropriate. More information can be found here, information on the NHS learning support fund can be found here, and information on the NHS student bursary can be found here.

Students in Wales: Financial support for eligible Welsh students who have experienced unavoidable delays to their studies due to the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to ensure they can complete their programme. This will be arranged between students’ universities and Student Awards Services Wales. Students who are concerned should speak to their university.

Students in Scotland: Financial support for eligible final year students who still have placement time to complete as part of their nursing and midwifery programmes in Scotland will continue until 31 December 2020. Students should speak to their university who will be required to request the extension from the Student Awards Agency Scotland. If an extension is needed beyond 31 December 2020 the university should complete an SAAS form and send it to CNOD_Education for consideration.

Students in Northern Ireland: It has been verbally confirmed that students who are delayed in graduating due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be able to access their bursaries for an additional six months. More lengthy extensions will be subject to approval by the Department of Health. We are have sought written confirmation of this information and further information as to the eligibility criteria and relevant process to follow. We will update this information as soon as possible. In the interim students who are concerned about delays to their studies should speak to their university.

After the ‘first wave’ most maternity units reported that they felt they could continue to provide the necessary support and supervision to students to enable them to continue their placements. Further, making the necessary arrangements for students to opt out/in and join the workforce caused significant disruption to the student experience. As such, during any future outbreaks, universities and placement providers will aim to keep arrangements as normal as possible and avoid the need for students to opt out/in and undertake extended paid placements.

We understand that many students are dissatisfied with the fact that students are not being paid for their time while on placement. However, as employing students carries some negative implications, (for example, students cannot be supernumerary while employed) the RCM believes that in place of pay, students should receive adequate financial support from government to complete their studies. The RCM has and will continue to lobby for adequate financial support for students as a matter of priority. Below is a list of actions we have recently taken on this matter.

  • In 2019 we surveyed midwifery students across the UK to find out how they were coping with their finances.

  • In May 2020, we developed a joint letter to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health on behalf of RCN, UNISON, NUS, and RCM which called on government to recognise students’ contributions to public health and the pandemic by reimbursing tuition fees, abolishing tuition fees, and implementing maintenance grants which reflect actual need. You can read the media release here.

  • In June, we developed the above letter into a Parliamentary briefing which we circulated to a wider group of MPs to call attention to this issue.

  • In July 2020, we surveyed students again to ask them about their situation and how the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting on them. We combined the findings from this survey with the findings from the previous survey and published the following publication in which we recommended that governments conduct a wholesale review of financial support for student midwives. You can read the media release here.

  • In September 2020, together with the NUS, UNISON, and RCN we updated the parliamentary briefing and circulated it to key MPs and their staff to again raise the plight of nursing and midwifery students. The unions used this brief to set up meetings with MPs to discuss these issues.

Students in England: If you have been told to self-isolate on or after 28 September 2020, you could be eligible for a £500 Test and Trace Support Payment if you live in England and meet the criteria:

  • you’re employed or self-employed
  • you’re unable to work from home and will lose income as a result of self-isolating
  • you’re currently receiving Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Pension Credit

OR

  • if you are not receiving one of the above benefits, if you meet the other criteria and are on a low income and will face financial hardship as a result of not being able to work while you are self-isolating.

See this website for further information.

 

Students in Wales: If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or have been formally told to self-isolate by the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service on or after 23 October 2020, you can apply for a payment from 3pm on 16 November. You must be:

  • be employed or self-employed
  • be unable to work from home, and lose income as a result of self-isolation
  • be getting one or more of these benefits: Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, Income-based Employment and Support Allowance, Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Pension Credit

If you meet most of the criteria but do not get benefits, you could apply for a discretionary payment from your local authority. Discretionary payments are only made in exceptional circumstances. For example, if: your total household income is less than £350 per week or you have less than £6,000 in savings. You could also apply for the Discretionary Assistance Fund.

See this website for further information.

 

Students in Scotland: If you have been contacted by Test and Protect and asked to self-isolate because of COVID-19, you may be eligible for the Self-Isolation Support Grant. You can apply at any time during the period you've been asked to self-isolate for. To be eligible for the grant, you must:

  • be employed or self-employed
  • be unable to work from home, and lose income as a result of self-isolation
  • be getting one or more of these benefits: Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, Income-based Employment and Support Allowance, Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Pension Credit

If all of these things do not apply to you, you will not be eligible for a Self-Isolation Support Grant. You might be able to get a Crisis Grant if you are on a low income and are having money problems because you have to self-isolate.

See this website for further information.

 

Students in Northern Ireland: A non-repayable Discretionary Support self-isolation grant may be available to a person who has either been diagnosed with COVID-19 or told to self-isolate. Expenses covered by this grant (for example a short term supply of groceries) will normally be payable from the date of application to the day before the person’s next income is due to be received. Decision makers have the discretion to make awards for longer periods if income is not sufficient to meet living expenses and to address the financial shock of self-isolation. To be eligible you must:

  • have an extreme, exceptional or crisis situation which places you or your immediate family’s health, safety or wellbeing at significant risk
  • you must live in Northern Ireland and you must be either:
  • over 18 years old or at least 16 years old (if you do not have any parental support)
  • your annual income, including the income of your partner, must not be above the national living wage of £20,405 per year - this is based on the National Living Wage for over 25 year olds (currently £8.72 per hour) over a 45-hour week and is automatically adjusted whenever this rate increases
  • you or a member of your immediate family has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or
  • you or a member of your immediate family has advised to self-isolate in accordance with guidance published by the Regional Agency for Public Health and Social Well-being.

There are also a number of other discretionary sources of support you may wish to explore. See this website for further information.

Students in England: Students who are experiencing financial hardship should approach the funding/support team at their university who may be able to assist. If you are on a low income, are disabled, or require assistance with the costs of attending clinical placements, you may also be eligible for addition help from government. For more information please visit this webpage.

Students in Wales: Students who are experiencing financial hardship should approach the funding/support team at their university who may be able to assist. Students can also contact Student Finance Wales on 0300 200 4050. For more information please visit this webpage.

Students in Scotland: Students who are experiencing financial hardship should approach the funding/support team at their university who may be able to assist. Students can also contact the Student Awards Agency Scotland to discuss your options.

Students in Northern Ireland: Students who are experiencing financial hardship should approach the funding/support teams at their universities who may be able to assist via a Support Fund. You may also want to visit this webpage which has information about funding options for students.

Christmas holidays

General information and Q&As about the arrangements for students travelling home at Christmas can be found here. Please consult the information below for information specific to healthcare students in each nation.

Students studying in England: All students should return home during the student travel window between 3 and 9 December (as long as you are not required to self-isolate). This includes all students on placements where possible. However, many students on placements (including midwifery students) are considered essential workers, meaning they will be asked to remain in placements until the end of term. If your placement continues beyond 9 December, you may travel home after this date. You should follow public health guidance and try to restrict your social contact to minimise the risk of transmission. Providers that are participating in the mass asymptomatic testing programme have been instructed to ensure students staying after 9 December have access to a test before returning home. Please consider the more detailed guidance available here.

Students in Wales: Universities in Wales will conclude the majority of in-person teaching in the week leading up to 8 December to allow students who wish to move from term time accommodation to do so by 9 December. However, many students on placements (including midwifery students) are considered essential workers, meaning they will be asked to remain in placements until the end of term. If you are staying on past 9 December, you will need to be super vigilant to reduce risk, for example by only leaving home for essential purposes, and practicing social distancing – even within your own household. You should also get an asymptomatic test before you travel. Students who are essential workers should already have access to priority testing. Please consider the more detailed guidance available here.

Students in Scotland: You will be able to travel home from your term-time address and join one other household once term finishes. Universities have been asked to stagger the end of in-person teaching and assessment throughout December. This is to allow you to return to your main residence in good time and to manage the number of students likely to be travelling at any one time. It is really important that you limit the risk of transferring infection when moving households. Even if you are not showing any symptoms of COVID-19 you should get a COVID-19 test before you return home to help reduce the risk to your family and community. You should reduce social mixing for two weeks before going home. This means going out only for essential reasons including learning, food shopping and exercise. Please consider the more detailed guidance available here.

Students in Northern Ireland: Students should be extra vigilant in following public health guidance and should access testing where possible before travelling home for the Christmas break. Students should seek out and follow guidance from the universities about returning home.

Concerns about mental health and wellbeing

Students have had a tough year, if you are struggling, please reach out. Your university and placement provider should be working together to ensure that you have the support you need, and we encourage you to first check the support available from your university, but there are also other routes of support which are available to you.

Students studying in England:

As part of the NHS family, healthcare students can access help and support in the same way the NHS workforce can. This information is available at this link and includes:

Confidential support by phone General: 0300 131 7000 (7am-11pm)

Bereavement: 0300 303 4434 (8am-8pm)

Support by text message Text ‘FRONTLINE’ to 85258 24 hours a day, seven days a week

Students can also contact Student Space by texting ‘STUDENT’ to 85258​ or calling 0808 189 5260 between 4pm and 11pm. Student Space also has some useful materials on mental health, studying, money, grief and loss.

If you need urgent medical attention, please call NHS on 111 or call emergency services on 999.

Students studying in Wales:

If you are struggling, you are encouraged to contact Mind Cymru, you can call 0300 123 3393, email [email protected] or text 86463, for information on where to get support, you can also visit their website.

Students can also contact Student Space by texting ‘STUDENT’ to 85258​ or calling 0808 189 5260 between 4pm and 11pm. Student Space also has some useful materials on mental health, studying, money, grief and loss.

If you need urgent medical attention, then please call NHS on 111 or call emergency services on 999.

Students studying in Scotland:

If you are struggling, you are encouraged to contact Breathing Space - you can call 0800 83 85 87  (free call) from Mon – Thu between 6pm - 2am and 24 hours on weekends or visit their website for online support via webchat.

If you need urgent medical attention, then please call NHS 24 on 111 or call emergency services on 999.

Students studying in Northern Ireland:

If you are struggling, you are encouraged to contact The Samaritans who offer a 24-hour telephone helpline: National telephone:116 123 (free call) textphone: 08457 90 91 92.

You can also find some more specific helplines and support here.

If you need urgent medical attention, then please call NHS 111 or call emergency services on 999.

Keeping up to date

As the COVID-19 situation continues your lecturers will remain in contact to let you know how this impacts you and your studies, it is important that you stay in contact with your lecturers at this time for support and guidance.

We also encourage students to have a read through the information in the Coronavirus section of our website. We will update these FAQs regularly. If you have a question which we have not previously answered then please contact us. You can also follow us on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram accounts. If you are an RCM member you will also receive our regular newsletters.

Useful external guidance

The NMC issued a set of emergency standards to allow flexibility to be applied to the delivery of nursing and midwifery programmes in response to the pandemic. They have now released their recovery programme standards emergency standards which allows for some of the emergency standards to be retained if required. The recovery standards give flexibility to enable education and healthcare providers to adopt innovative ways of providing practice placements in these challenging times. They also have information for students and educators with some Q&As to provide more clarity. General information about midwifery regulation can be found here.

HEE have provided an information hub and webinar providing advice and guidance for student midwives during the coronavirus pandemic.

You can also access the recent letter from HEE to students here.

For guidance on work place health and safety risk assessments see https://www.nhsemployers.org/covid19/assurance/preemployment-checks/work-health-assessments. You can also consult the RCM guidance on conducting risk assessments here: https://www.rcm.org.uk/health-safety-and-wellbeing/

For general guidance on coronavirus including guidance in workplace settings and travelling see the following websites:

England: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

NI: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/coronavirus-covid-19

Scotland: https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19/

Wales: https://gov.wales/coronavirus

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