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'We're being asked to help out on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus as students nurses and midwives - it's frightening'

  • Student midwife speaks exclusively to the Northern Quota
  • Expresses fears about working on patients with the virus
  • Worries over personal protective clothing for student nurses and midwives

Laura, 21, a student midwife from North Yorkshire, has spoken to the Northern Quota about being called to the frontline during the coronavirus pandemic.

She is one of thousands of student nurses and midwives called upon by the NHS to help in the fight against the global outbreak.

While on placement, they are not being paid and are at high risk of falling ill while working alongside patients with the virus.

Laura lives in a flat with five other students, all studying midwifery or nursing.  They are all in self-isolation due to one of the flatmates showing symptoms of the virus.

She said: “To qualify (as a midwife) we have to do 2,300 hours on placement, even though being in hospitals at this time is very high risk and even now we don’t have an option if we stand a chance of qualifying on time.”

Laura told NQ that she lives with one student nurse who had recently been working on a children’s ward.

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“A lot of kids they suspected to have the virus were on that ward for testing, and there was three students working on there,” said Laura.

“They were recently informed that it’s too high risk for students to be on there, so obviously there has been some confirmed cases. Now she’s ill and she wasn’t even paid to be there.”

Staff and students who work amongst coronavirus patients are not currently being tested, Laura said.

“I think they should be testing staff. If my flatmate hasn’t got it, then there’s five of us isolating that could be at work,” she said.

Laura does not think they will be screened before they start work and added that “we haven’t been told anything yet, but my other friends that are on wards now haven’t been screened”.

“If we are all on placement in my flat, we are covering five different wards, and then all living together, we’re much more likely to get it,” she said.

In a week’s time, Laura will begin her placement on the maternity wards, but is concerned about what level of personal protection she will be given.

She said: “We don’t have the necessary personal protective equipment, there is a massive shortage.

We haven’t been watching the news, when you’re amongst it, it frightens you

There is talk of a temporary register being introduced by government and the Nursing Midwifery Council, to which Laura and her friends may sign up to.  This will enable them to work for six months as paid NHS staff.

They will be paid as band four employees, rather than band five which is the starting level for a fully qualified midwife.

Laura said: “They’re asking third year students to help with the temporary register, yet we will be paid below what we are training to be.

“Ideally, we want to qualify on time and be paid at a band 5 level after all the work we’ve put it. Our uni course isn’t now guaranteed to finish in September as planned.”

When Laura started in 2017, the nursing and midwifery bursary had just been withdrawn. It is being reintroduced in September.

Laura said: “Our year group will be the only group that won’t get any. Even the year below will get some for their final year.

“The irony that it’s us that didn’t get the bursary, yet it’s us who they are asking to help in this high risk situation, when everyone else is self-isolating at home.

“We feel it's the only reason they’re offering us the band four payment as they know they look pretty bad now.

“They’ve asked third year students because they know we’re already above that level.

“They're asking for our help, but they’re not claiming they necessarily need it

“When really, it’s holding us back from finishing our degrees.”

Speaking about how she feels to be working on the wards, Laura said: “Naturally, the kind of person who is training to be a nurse or midwife wants to help people.

“They have made it clear you can opt out of the temporary register, but you can’t opt out of your placement hours.

“The vibe I get from everyone is that we all want to help, but it’s annoying that these hours while working for six months, won’t count towards our degree.”

Laura also expressed concern about some of the patient she will be working with.

“If a baby is isolated, a mother could miss the chance to breast feed,” she said.

“Breast milk has many benefits for mother and baby. It passes a lot of anti-bodies from the mum to the baby.

“So if you take the baby away, the opportunity could be missed.”

Though Laura and her friends are not yet fully qualified, the shortage of NHS staff means that students are being given more responsibility.

Laura spoke about another friend who has recently started in community midwifery.

She said: “Katie will be getting her own patients. She’s going to be a midwife without yet being fully qualified.

“They wouldn’t normally just let you visit people’s houses without being fully qualified.

“It’s a big responsibility. If we miss something, we are not yet registered for NMC to deal with consequences.”

Laura also expressed concern and suggested that if they contract the virus they could be ‘putting women and babies at risk’ if they inadvertently pass on the virus.

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