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Union calls for student loan overpayments to be written off

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The Royal College of Nursing has said that hundreds of student nurses are suffering financial hardship because of mistakes made by the Student Loans Company.

Hundreds of student nurses have been warned not to expect further loan payments this year due to administrative errors in the loans system – leaving many concerned over rent and living costs for the next six months.

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The Royal College of Nursing has called on the Student Loans Company (SLC) to write off erroneous overpayments that range from £600 to £3,900.

Students from at least nine universities in England received letters explaining how the government-owned body will not pay further loan instalments in order to recover the amounts. Nursing students said the decision would affect their personal budgeting through to the start of the next academic year in September.

RCN Chief Executive Janet Davies has urged the loans company to use existing overpayment policies to reach agreement with the Education Secretary not to recover the figures.

The universities involved include Derby, Southampton, Suffolk and West London. Students who queried the amounts with the loans body report receiving false reassurances that the sums were correct. The SLC has since confirmed it has been aware since January.

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The largest overpayments were made to the poorest students – recipients of means-tested grants, often mature students without parental support and with children or caring responsibilities.

It is understood that the payments, made to second and third-year students, had not been adjusted for the NHS bursary they still receive. Other students received grant funding despite unsuccessful applications.

In the letter to the SLC, the RCN Chief Executive Janet Davies said:

“Students budget according to loan forecast and a sudden withdrawal of payment can have disastrous results, such as inability to pay rent. This action comes at a critical time when students are studying for exams and projects.

“I am very concerned about the considerable amount of distress and disruption this error and subsequent action is causing. Student nurses, or indeed any students, are simply not in a position to cope with a sharp reduction in expected loan payments.”

Jessica Sainsbury, a student in Southampton affected by the error, said:

“The past couple of weeks turned the world upside down. Some of my peers see no other option than to drop out if they are unsuccessful with the hardship fund application from our university.

“As well as being extremely upset, students are shocked at how the Student Loans Company have managed this situation, with information sent in dribs and drabs and some students notified weeks after their peers.”

Emma Moss from the University of West London said:

“This is the last thing I need in the final few months of my nursing degree. I’m worried sick about being left with barely enough money to pay the rent, buy food and travel to work and university.

“When I called the Student Loans Company in September to question my payments, they told me that there was no error. Now they tell me that I owe almost £800 and will not be receiving my next instalment. If they take this money from me, I have no idea what I’m going to do next.”

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Mobile Stroke Unit will see patients receive life-saving care faster than ever

This the first time a Mobile Stroke Unit, a concept developed by the University of the Saarland in Germany, has been tested in the UK.

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Southend University Hospital is undertaking the trial of a Mobile Stroke Unit which will see patients receive life-saving care faster than ever.

The Mobile Stroke Unit, which has an onboard CT scanner and blood-testing equipment, will be staffed by stroke and imaging experts who can diagnose and start treating patients with suspected stroke at the scene.

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This the first time a Mobile Stroke Unit, a concept developed by the University of the Saarland in Germany, has been tested in the UK.

Lead Stroke Consultant at Southend, Dr Paul Guyler explains its importance: “It’s widely known that ‘time is brain’ when it comes to stroke.  When a patient is suspected to have had a stroke a CT scan is essential to allow specialists to determine whether the patient has a blood clot in the brain, a bleed in the brain or something else. 

“The scan determines the diagnosis and what treatment happens next, and the Mobile Stroke Unit brings the scanner and the clinicians to the patient.”

Should a stroke be diagnosed, life-saving clot-busting medications can be administered to the patient quicker than ever before.

The Trust was offered the opportunity, to test the specialist ambulance in the community for a short period of time.  This was made possible because of the of the strong links between Consultant Interventional Neuroradiologist Professor Iris Grunwald, who works at the Trust and also holds the post of Director of Neuroscience at Anglia Ruskin University School of Medicine, and her colleagues at the University of the Saarland, Germany who are supplying the vehicle free of charge.

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The unit will be based at Southend to ensure safety and governance standards are met and Professor Grunwald has been working with the Trust’s stroke team to put plans into place.  Anglia Ruskin University and the team will be evaluating the information collected during the project. 

Professor Grunwald said: “We know that Mobile Stroke Units work in a densely populated city through trials carried out in Germany, Norway, Australia and the USA.

“The data and learning we gather during the period the vehicle is in use will be valuable in understanding the benefits and challenges of using a Mobile Stroke Unit in a more suburban or rural area, like we have across mid and south Essex.”

While the project is limited to a three-month period, the stroke team are looking to the future and hope that the information they gather over the 12 weeks will help inform plans to develop stroke services across mid and south Essex.

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UNISON accepts 3% pay deal for Scotland

UNISON Scotland has accepted a 3% pay rise for NHS staff and demands for it to be implemented ‘without delay’.

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UNISON Scotland has accepted a 3% pay rise for NHS staff and demands for it to be implemented ‘without delay’.

During the union’s annual health conference in Brighton today, the union has said it will accept a pay deal which would secure an above-inflation 3% wage rise for the all NHS workers in Scotland and has called for it to be implemented with immediate effect.

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Two weeks ago the Scottish Government tabled a ‘draft pay remit’ which proposes NHS staff earning less than £80,000 will receive 3% increase on pay and allowances.

UNISON Scotland has today announced that they will accept this proposed deal.

Tom Waterson, Chair of the UNISON Scotland Health Committee, said: “It was UNISON’s campaign in health, and across the public sector, which convinced the Scottish government to scrap the pay cap. It has tabled a pay remit paper that says all staff earning less than £80,000 are to receive an immediate 3% increase on pay and allowances, while talks craft a Scottish version of the NHS offer currently being consulted on in England.

“UNISON Scotland accepts the offer of 3% and demands that it‘s implemented without further delay. This agreement is an important first step to securing a Scottish deal for Scottish NHS workers, and we’re determined that it will deliver for our staff and roll back the pain of austerity.

“There appears to be a view that the 2018 pay award should be held off until the NHS pay offer is concluded in England. That is not acceptable. Shona Robison, cabinet secretary for health has committed to giving NHS workers a pay rise, the government has promised 3% and UNISON won’t allow anyone to delay the implementation of that rise.”

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The pay remit is expected to be discussed over the next few days by Scotland’s health unions. If agreed it would secure a “no detriment” deal, ensuring that Scottish NHS workers would not be worse off than their English colleagues, who are currently being balloted on a pay offer in England.

UNISON says it won’t be balloting NHS Scotland members on the England offer, but has committed to do so on the final outcome of Scottish negotiations.

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‘Overworked’ healthcare assistants being expected to do the work of nurses

UNISON is calling on the government to address staffing issues so that HCAs feel properly supported and patients receive the care they deserve.

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Healthcare assistants are being expected to do the work of nurses without adequate training or proper supervision, according to survey results published today by UNISON.

Nearly two-thirds say they are being left to care for patients without enough support from doctors and nurses. The impact is that almost two in five of HCAs say they do not feel confident that those they are caring for are safe.

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The findings are based on a survey of nearly 2,000 HCAs across the UK with the majority working in hospitals, as well as in mental health, in the community and in GP practices.

More than half say they have not received adequate training for performing tasks such as dressing the wounds of patients, giving out medication and changing stoma bags.

The report also highlights how nursing and other staff shortages are to blame for nearly three-quarters of HCAs having to take on extra work, according to UNISON.

Healthcare assistants say the situation has been worse this winter (2017/18) compared to the year before. Well over half say that they have picked up extra work due to nursing or clinical staff shortages. Also, two in five say they were asked to carry out tasks without adequate training more often than last winter, and over a third said they were asked to perform tasks without supervision more frequently than last year.

Janet, a healthcare assist from Croydon, said: “Trusts are trying to make use of HCAs, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can put patients at risk. I work as a maternity support officer on a band 3. There is a divide at the trust I work for between the people that have worked there a long time and those of us that are newer to the job. People who have been in the job longer have received different training that doesn’t cover everything we’re expected to do these days. Since I started two years ago there’s more pressure on us, and we’re taking on more responsibilities.”

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UNISON is calling on the government to address staffing issues so that HCAs feel properly supported and patients receive the care they deserve.

Sara Gorton, Head of Health at UNISON, said: “Healthcare assistants are being left to fill staffing gaps and do vital tasks without recognition or reward. It’s bad for them and bad for patients.

“It is important these staff receive training for all the extra responsibilities they’re expected to take on.

“It’s clear the pressures on them to act as nurse substitutes have increased over the winter. The government needs to show they value healthcare assistants by investing in their training.”

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