NMC statement: enabling student education and supporting the workforce

Published on 14 January 2021

Read our statement

With the pandemic continuing to put enormous pressure on health and care services, questions are again understandably being asked around the role of students and the arrangements for their learning.

Nursing and midwifery students are the future of our profession, and it is our priority to ensure that students are supported to complete their studies.

In March 2020 we introduced emergency standards to allow more flexibility to be applied to the delivery of nursing and midwifery programmes. This enabled students in their second and third/final years to undertake extended clinical placements, making a valuable contribution to the response to the Covid-19 pandemic as part of their programmes. Those emergency standards were withdrawn in September 2020 and replaced with recovery standards, aimed at normalising nursing and midwifery education, while still allowing flexibility in the way programmes were delivered.

In recent weeks, health and care services and the workforce have come under increasing and extreme pressure. On 13 January 2021, the NMC Chief Executive and Registrar received a letter from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, supported by the Chief Executive of the NHS in England, requesting that the emergency standards be reintroduced in relation to final year nursing students only, so that they can support the response to Covid-19, where they wish to.

Following careful consideration by the NMC and after listening to the views of the UK’s Chief Nursing Officers, the Council of Deans of Health, and other partners, we have reviewed the Secretary of State’s request and agreed to reintroduce emergency education standards for final year nursing students.

Read the letter from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and our letter in response.

Additionally, following advice from the service and approved educational institutions (AEIs) about some of the difficulties they are facing in supporting student clinical placements, we have also agreed the introduction of two additional emergency standards relating to first year nursing and midwifery students and supervision and assessment in practice.

These decisions have been made by the Deputy Chair taking Chair’s action having consulted with Council members. The decision will be reported at the open Council meeting on 27 January 2021.

As a UK regulator, these emergency standards are available to use in each country but are not mandatory for any individual country, region, institution or student.

For nursing and midwifery students in their first year:

While we want first year students to continue with their practice placements, we recognise that in some regions of the UK it may not be possible. We have therefore reinstated the emergency standard which allows first year nursing and midwifery students to focus on academic and online learning rather than participating in clinical placements while the system is under pressure due to the pandemic and as a result, supervision of these students is not possible in line with our standards.

The emergency standards are optional for universities to adopt and where first years can continue their placements as normal then this should be actively supported and encouraged.

For nursing students in the final year of their programme:

The emergency standards will enable all final year nursing students to undertake extended clinical placements for up to 100 per cent of their programme, if they wish. Where these standards are adopted locally, dependent on need - students will be able to opt in to undertake a paid clinical placement while the emergency standard is in place. As usual it is the role of the AEIs to make sure that students have met all of their learning outcomes and requirements to complete their programme and join the NMC register.

For all other undergraduate nursing and midwifery students and post-graduate diploma/masters students:

Students will continue with their studies as planned and the emergency education standards allowing extended clinical placements will not apply to these programmes. These students will continue to have supernumerary status when on clinical placements.

Changes to Supervision and Assessment standards for all nursing and midwifery students:

The standards for Supervision and Assessment have been amended to allow the same person to fulfil the role of practice supervisor and practice assessor for the period that this emergency standard is in place. This will help to create additional flexibility within nursing and midwifery education and enable student assessment and supervision to be maintained.

UK framework, local flexibility

While these emergency standards will facilitate students to support the workforce as outlined above, the decision as to whether students will be used in this way rests with AEIs, and senior health and care leaders in the four countries of the UK. They will take into consideration local factors which may have implications for safety, ease of operational delivery and staff and student preferences before making any changes that enable students to support the workforce.

As before, those responsible for health and care services will develop appropriate deployment guidance for employers, professionals and students that are bespoke for each of the four countries of the UK, including the terms and conditions and remuneration for students working in clinical practice.

Enabling students to support the health and social care workforce

As is always the case, nursing and midwifery students may volunteer or undertake paid work in a clinical setting in their spare time, while they maintain their academic study. Volunteering or paid work will not be counted towards the practice hours and experience required to complete their pre-registration course as this is not permissible within our standards and any change to this effect could risk losing the critical oversight that AEIs have over student practice hours, supervision and agreed learning outcomes

Supporting students in their choice, health and wellbeing

We recognise that for many students, their learning experience has already been disrupted and that this disruption may continue in the short-term. We also recognise that while some students may wish to take up these options, others may not. This is entirely up to individuals and we fully support whatever choice an individual makes. No student should be criticised for the individual decision they make but should be supported by their AEI.

It's critical that all students on placement have access to appropriate personal protective equipment. And given what is known about the impact of Covid-19 on people from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, that partners across the health and care system take full responsibility for protecting students on placement, including carrying out appropriate risk assessment.

We know these changes and the current pressures may be unsettling and difficult for students. Our website signposts to wellbeing resources and AEIs will have their own wellbeing services in place. Please ask for support if you feel you may need it.

Thank you

On behalf of everyone at the NMC, I would once again like to say thank you to nursing and midwifery students for their continued commitment and hard work, in what are extremely challenging circumstances. Your dedication to our professions has filled us with confidence for the future and we are enormously proud of all of you.

We will keep the current situation under close review, with the aim of removing the emergency standards as soon as is practicable to do so.

Andrea Sutcliffe CBE, Chief Executive and Registrar, NMC

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