Student nurses will be asked to boost the health service’s workforce during the worsening coronavirus outbreak, the head of NHS England has said.
Sir Simon Stevens told the chief nursing officer summit in Birmingham today that up to 18,000 third-year undergraduate student nurses will be invited ‘to help out on the front line’.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council has confirmed it is ‘working closely with the Government’ to allow different groups – including retired and student nurses – to join its register.
However, a universities group has warned there must be ‘clarity’ around the roles that students will perform to ensure they are working ‘within their competencies’.
Sir Simon said: ‘Coronavirus is now the single biggest challenge facing all European health services, and the NHS will be no exception.
‘As part of sensible preparation, we want to invite up to 18,000 third-year undergraduate nurses to help out on the frontline, and we will be working with the regulators and staff organisations on this.’
He continued: ‘We will need to respond flexibly and pragmatically, in the way the NHS always does.
‘This response will involve all parts of the health service, from hospitals to community health and primary care, as well as our partners in social care and other public services.
‘As we move through the contain and delay phases into mitigation, we are going to have look after an increasing number of people with coronavirus, and our own staff are going to be affected too.’
But Professor Brian Webster-Henderson, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, which represents all UK university faculties training nurses, cautioned: ‘It is imperative that there is clarity on the roles they will be asked to perform and assurance they will be working within their competencies.’
He also said that universities will ‘look for clarity from the regulators’ around how they can compensate for the loss of practice house and teaching time, as well as how the student nurses’ extra experience will be recognised.
Chief executive of the NMC Andrea Sutcliffe said: ‘We’re working closely with the Government – together with our key partners across all four countries of the UK – on the proposed development of new legislation that would allow us to register individuals on an emergency basis in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
‘While the planning for this type of situation is complex and ongoing, ensuring we’re adopting an approach that is safe and proportionate is a fundamental part of this work,’ she added.
The news comes as retired nurses raised concerns about their safety it they are asked to return to work to help tackle coronavirus.