Thousands of student nurses recruited to work on the front line against Covid-19 have been told their placements will be cut short, plunging some of them into financial despair.
Many nurses expressed their outrage at a decision from NHS England that their paid placements will now finish on 31 July instead of running until the end of September.
But Health Education England (HEE) – which oversees training – said that it was "made clear to students who opted into paid placements" that the arrangements would need to come to an end at "an appropriate point".
One nurse calling herself Becky Jane said nurses had been told by HEE that the NHS can no longer afford to keep the paid placements going until the end of September as originally promised.
“Some of us left jobs for this. Many of us have children and families to care for," she wrote on a message on Facebook.
She said nurses could graduate with around £30,000 debt already and had signed up for the six-month placements at the start of April despite being “terrified” of contracting Covid-19.
“Please do not clap for your NHS. Please in future consider voting to fund it properly,” she added.
Another nurse, Sarah Flynn, wrote on Facebook: “We saved your life Boris or have you forgotten?”
Health Education England Chief Nurse Mark Radford hit back at the claims: "It was always made clear to students who opted into paid placements the arrangements would need to come to an end at an appropriate point so that students could return to their supernumerary status to complete their registered nursing qualifications as quickly as possible to permanently enter the NHS workforce," he said in a statement.
Professor Radford said Year 3 students would be paid until July 31, but those with hours to complete will be paid until September
Year 2 students remain on placement till July 31 before being transferred on to normal non-paid placements.
In mid-April, NHS England reported that nearly 15,000 student nurses, midwives and medical students had joined “frontline NHS teams as part of the nationwide coronavirus fightback”.
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, praised them at the time, saying they were “stepping up to serve in the fight against coronavirus”.
He added: “Today we want to say particular thanks to the new generation of NHS staff who are starting their careers early to play their part.
“These students are beginning their careers as the NHS faces the greatest global health challenge in the history of the health service.
“Their commitment to the NHS and all it stands for is as great as that of any previous generation, and the whole country will be both grateful and proud.”
More than 25,000 students across the UK were deployed to the front line on extended and paid clinical placements to assist with the Covid-19 response.
According to the website NursingNotes, one university told its student nurses: “We have now had final confirmation that the 31st of July 2020 will be the end date for all students on paid placements in all placement areas.”
On Wednesday, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth asked his Tory counterpart Matt Hancock: “Why are student nurses who joined the front line six months ago as part of the coronavirus effort now seeing their paid placement schemes terminated early, leaving them with no income? Surely this is no way to treat student nursing staff?”
Former health secretary and Tory MP Jeremy Hunt tweeted of the reports from student nurses: “This would be very concerning if true but I cannot believe govt would let down this brilliant and brave group of people.”
Mike Adams, director for England at the Royal College of Nursing called on Health Education England and the NHS in England to "offer some clarity."
“The vital work student nurses have been doing throughout the pandemic has demonstrated the huge contribution nursing undergraduates make to our health and care services," he said.
“The commitments they made should be honoured during any transition back to established programme structures.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said it was wrong to suggest student nurses and midwives were being made redundant.
The spokesperson said: "All students are required to complete placements during their training, but as the Covid-19 response was an exceptional ask, these hours have been paid for and will be until the end of the summer.
“By the end of July most final year students can qualify as registered nurses and start full time work, increasing their pay. Those with hours to complete will be paid until September. Second year students will return to complete their qualifications so they can qualify as quickly as possible, which has always been the plan.”
Coronavirus: Everything you need to know