Students should be included in the vote on the proposed NHS pay deal – because it directly affects their future.
In March the Government, alongside healthcare unions, announced ‘modernisation’ of the Agenda for Change pay structure and revealed a radical overhaul of both the structure and terms and conditions of the pay system.
However, many have highlighted issues with the proposed pay deal.
The official recommendation from all unions, except the GMB, is that the deal should be accepted and unions are set to ballot their members later this month. But, only current NHS employees who are under an Agenda for Change contract will be included in the vote – this excludes the majority of healthcare students.
Student nurses alongside student radiographers, physiotherapists student and other allied healthcare professionals are the healthcare professionals of tomorrow and the proposed NHS pay deal will have a direct impact on their future.
As qualified professionals it is important we have our students on our side, students are united, numerous, have immense voting power and the ability to change the outcome of any vote.Image: © Monkey Business
The Royal College of Nursing has admitted it is ‘frustrating’ for those wanting to vote on their future, as currently, the only way for students to get involved is to ensure eligible members exercise their right to vote.
Katharine Youngs, Student RCN Trade Union Committee Member, said; “I know that not being able to vote in the consultation is very frustrating – especially if you know that you want to work in the NHS when you qualify.
“But the deal proposes changes to current NHS contracts of employment, and not future contracts, so we cannot vote on something that doesn’t apply to us right now, in the same way that RCN members in the independent sector won’t be able to vote.
“As student members, we can still get involved in the consultation by spreading the word about the deal in our universities, and help both fellow students and NHS staff in our placements to understand the benefits we will experience in the future.
“You can encourage those RCN members working in your NHS placements to take part in the online consultation when it opens on 23 April. You can also attend the pay events around the country to hear more about the deal and ask any questions as well as visiting the RCN website for full details of the deal.
But, Richard Betley, a Student Nurse and RCN Member, disagreed with the official stance and feels that students need to be actively involved; “As paying members of the RCN, students should be included in any votes which directly affect their future. The pay deal is structured over a 3 year period so any student currently studying nursing will qualify during this period.
‘Student nurses graduate with £54k of debt, shouldn’t we pay them a wage instead?’
The Government claims students are “supernumerary” and “not contracted to provide nursing care”.
Student nurses are the unseen workforce and vital to patient care.
While I am pleased for the thousands of students who will soon be starting their journey to become a registered nurse, it comes with a stark reminder.
In November 2015, ministers announced the NHS Student Bursary and tuition fee payment would be cut in a plan to increase the number of available student places.
Suffice to say, this hasn’t worked.
Instead, we have seen a consistent decline in the number of student nurses qualifying. Official figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show an overall decline in applications of 8% since 2015.
There is no debate that nurses need to be degree-level educated – but are student loans the best way to fill an ever-widing gap in our workforce?
The unseen workforce.
Student nurses are the unseen workforce and are sometimes vital to the delivery of safe, compassionate, person-centered care.
Completing over two-thousand hours of hand-on, direct clinical practice over three years – is it fair to ask them to accumulate up to £54,582 (plus 6.3% annual interest) of debt?
With a starting salary of £24,214, this is a debt the majority of nurses will never pay off.
The Government claims that because student nurses are “supernumerary” and “not contracted to provide nursing care” they need to be treated like all other higher education students.
While is it true that the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) mandates that student nurses are considered ‘supernumerary’ – how realistic is this expectation? We hear stories of student nurses, trainee nursing associates and healthcare support workers being used to fill nurse staffing gaps on an almost daily basis.
A self-perpetuating cycle.
With an estimated 40,000 unfilled nursing vacancies in the NHS alone, health and social care services in England are stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle.
Chronic under-investment in services has led to an increased demand on staff and subsequently affected recruitment and retention rates. Universities then fail to recruit enough nurses to meet the current demand and so the cycle continues.
The Royal College of Nursing has called on the Government to invest at least £1b per year into nursing education and come up with a long-term plan after its plan to increase numbers has failed to work.
Matching the proposed apprentice wage while student nurses are on placement would go some way towards alleviating the financial burden the government has placed on student nurses.
A fresh start?
I’m excited and I’m nervous. I qualified as a nurse just 15 months ago. I left a career in IT of “quite a few years” – I decided I needed a fresh start.
Now I’m sat on a train heading to my first ever RCN Congress. I’m a voting delegate and will be honoured to carry that responsibility for my branch.
I’m also excited to finally be meeting people that I’ve solely (or mostly) only ever connected with online.
Finally, I’m looking forward to the various debates and resolutions. Listening to the speakers will further inform my views and I might even share a thought or two myself – fortunately speaking in public does not generally worry me (I’ll be the one with the ukulele).
A brief glance back to this time last year when certain “irregularities” were noticed by some members around the pay deal and communications regarding it.
The train of events that followed uncovered a number of poor practices regarding transparency and accountability and our current council were elected to address these.
I also mentioned I am nervous.
Recently, it has become clear that further “irregularities” have occurred – and questions will be asked.
Tomorrow morning is the Royal College of Nursing’s Annual General Meeting – an opportunity for members to ask questions. An opportunity for the council to demonstrate its commitment to openness, transparency, and accountability. An opportunity for a fresh start.
I genuinely hope the answers to the questions I raise are clear and dispel the concerns many of us have.
And if they don’t? Well, that’s why I’m nervous.
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