Blog: Reintroducing our emergency standards

Published on 15 January 2021

Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Executive and Registrar at the NMC, talks about our announcement to reintroduce our emergency standards and what this means for students.

Our decision yesterday to reintroduce emergency standards so final year nursing students can undertake extended clinical placements to support the response to Covid-19 has raised lots of questions. Why did we do it? What does it mean?

Let me try my best to answer some of those questions in this blog.  

Why did we do it?

Health and care services are under extreme pressure. The new variant of Covid-19 has caused cases and hospital admissions to rise rapidly right in the middle of winter. The daily toll of deaths is heart breaking, with so many families affected by this dreadful disease. Our health and care services are struggling to cope.

That’s why a couple of days ago, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, supported by NHS England formally asked us to reintroduce emergency standards to allow third year nursing students to support the workforce and undertake extended, paid clinical placements.

It’s not a decision we’ve taken lightly. In fact, I’d go as far as to say this is a decision I hoped we wouldn’t need to make at all. Student education is precious and ensuring the next generation of professionals are equipped with the skills they need is a responsibility I take extremely seriously.

Before making our decision, we spoke to our partners to understand their views and concerns. Concerns we absolutely recognise. But we have to balance those concerns with what is happening right now in health and care services. After careful consideration and with a heavy heart we agreed to the request to make these changes.

An option, not a requirement

It’s important to remember that these emergency standards don’t have to be used. They’re not mandatory for any individual country, region, institution or student. They are an option, when more normal education is simply not possible or the health and care service is in extreme need of support.

We’ve used the experience of the first wave of the pandemic to be really clear about the responsibility of the university for overseeing and supporting all students to make sure the arrangements work best for everyone whatever their circumstances. If used with care, the emergency standards should still enable students to learn effectively and join our register when the time comes.

Why not second year nursing students?

I understand some second year students may be disappointed not to have the option of extended clinical placements like their final year colleagues. There are two important reasons for this.

Firstly, changing our education standards is a last resort. And where this happens, it’s important that disruption is kept to a minimum. Supporting second year students to continue their studies as usual, will mean classroom learning time will be protected, and supernumerary status will remain in place. That’s really important, particularly as many second year students will have had a disrupted first year.

Secondly, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care asked for emergency standards to be reintroduced for third year students only. Given our main focus to protect education we didn’t want to go any further than the government thought was necessary. 

What about student midwives?

Maternity services are certainly facing pressures at the moment and the challenges of supporting women and families in the current climate cannot be underestimated. Some of you are also asking why we haven’t introduced these emergency standards for student midwives.

This absolutely doesn’t mean we think student midwives are any less important or face fewer challenges in practice placements. On the contrary. The work midwives do has never been more important. But it’s because we want as many students as possible to have as normal a learning experience as they can, even in these challenging times. Ensuring supernumerary status and a balance of theoretical learning and practice placements is such an important part of that.

Midwifery is very different from nursing. During the first wave of the pandemic, many registered midwives told us that extended placements without supernumerary status were not appropriate for midwifery. This time, the advice we’ve heard from the NHS, supported by the Royal College of Midwives and the Chief Midwifery Officer in England, is that disrupting midwifery student’s education isn’t needed. That’s why the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care didn’t ask us to change the standards for midwifery students and like second year nursing students, we’ve only made the change where absolutely necessary.

What happens next?

As I have said, the request to implement extended placements for third years came from the secretary of state, and the  decision to allow this, in this emergency rests with us. But it is our partners across the health and care service who will ensure it happens safely. They will carry out the necessary risk assessments, make PPE available and arrange payment for third year students. We’ll keep our website up-to-date to signpost you to information as it becomes available.

We’re confident, our approved education institutions and their practice placement partners will work with students to ensure they have the best and safest learning experience possible in these unprecedented circumstances, regardless of profession or year of study.

Thank you

For some of you these changes will be welcome, for others they may be worrying or disappointing. However you’re feeling, I want you to know that here at the NMC we’re absolutely committed to your education. To supporting you to meet our standards. And enabling you as the next generation of nursing and midwifery professionals to thrive.

On behalf of everyone at the NMC, thank you for everything you continue to do in this extraordinarily challenging situation. I look forward to welcoming you on to our register in the months and years ahead.

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