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.
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.
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.”
One in six nursing associates drop out before qualifying, finds report
Despite this trainees showed “high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the programme”.
Only 65% of trainee nursing associates said they planned to work as a nursing associate once qualified.
An independent evaluation of the nursing associate role commissioned by Health Education England (HEE) has found that while there are “high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the programme”, one in six nursing associates are dropping out before completing the course.
Attrition rates for trainee nursing associates fell slightly below that of student nurses, with 18% leaving before completing the course.
While ill health and personal issues were some of the most common reasons for leaving the programme, nearly a quarter (23%) withdrew because they failed to meet the academic requirements of the programme – with numeracy skills cited as a key issue.
One trainee said they found the “attitudes towards the role and the negative feedback about Nursing Associates” challenging.
Only 65% of trainees said they intend to continue working as a nursing associate once qualified as the programme is often seen as a stepping stone to becoming a registered nursing.
Mark Radford, Chief Nursing Officer, Health Education England said the report “highlights some challenges that we must address to ensure that students such as ensuring the quality and oversight of placements, attrition and numeracy support.”
“We also recognise that further work and research is required to ensure that the profession is supported and utilised in the workforce of health and social care as part of the MDT. I am pleased to be able to report that we are in the process of identifying candidates to be considered as NA ambassadors across England.
Commenting on the report, Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Executive and Registrar for the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), said; “Having had the pleasure of meeting many nursing associates across the country, I am continually inspired by their enthusiasm and dedication for providing care and they should be very proud of the difference they make for the people they support.”
“I look forward to seeing how nursing associates continue to develop and be supported in their work, long into the future.”
UCAS accused of having an ‘outdated’ view on nurses
They describe the nursing role to prospective students as looking after people when they are sick or injured.
UCAS describes nurses as providing “support to doctors and other medical staff”.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has been accused of having an “outdated” view on nurses after it described the profession as providing “support to doctors and other medical staff”.
UCAS describes the nursing role to prospective students as looking after people when they are sick or injured. Adding; “You’ll provide support to doctors and other medical staff, take blood and urine samples, and in some cases, you may carry out minor surgical procedures.”
Nurses, alongside a multitude of other healthcare professionals, have taken to social media calling for the description to be amended so it “adequately reflects nursing in the 21st century”. They also criticised the article for failing to highlight a large number of health promotion and research roles frequently undertaken by the profession.
BJ Walto, a senior member of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) commented that the description is “inaccurate, demeaning and totally misleading portrayal of nursing.”
Tom Wavlin, a Lecturer in Adult Nursing & Admissions Tutor at the University of Plymouth, suggested the description could instead read; “an autonomous practitioner of nursing who works closely with other healthcare professionals”.
In comparison, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) website reads; “Registered nurses play a vital role in providing, leading and coordinating care that is compassionate, evidence-based, and person-centred. They are accountable for their own actions and must be able to work autonomously, or as an equal partner with a range of other professionals, and in interdisciplinary teams.”
A spokesperson for UCAS said; “It’s clear that our current role profile for nurses doesn’t reflect the amazing work that nurses across the country do each day, and we welcome the feedback we’ve recently received.
“We want to make sure that students considering their future options have up-to date information about all different careers available to them.
“We’re currently updating all of our job profiles and are in touch with nursing experts to help us make sure that we better reflect the roles and responsibilities of nurses today.”
UPDATE (17/10/19 09:55): This article was updated to include a comment from UCAS.
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