Mrs Whately, MP for Faversham and Care Minister at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), wrote the letter in response to fellow Tory MP Tom Pursglove who voiced concerns about financial support for student nurses.
It comes as the government is due to introduce the NHS Learning Support Fund later this year, which will provide non-repayable grants of up to £8,000 per year for student healthcare professionals – both current and new.
Nurses have to work thousands of unpaid hours before becoming registered.
However, many nurses who completed their course before this and after the previous bursary was scrapped in 2015 will miss out on the extra grants while still having to pay the full tuition fees of £9,520 per year, according to third-year paediatric student nurse Jessica Collins who has highlighted the issue repeatedly.
This is in addition to the fact that current nursing students who may finish before the extra grants are in place will have put in even more hours to help with the Covid-19 crisis – though it’s understood that nurses who did, and continue to do so, will be paid.
However, student nurses still have to 2,300 unpaid hours – in addition to 2,300 hours in an academic setting – in order to be registered as nurses.
As such, there have been calls to backdate the new grants so that the student nurses who fall between the previous grant and the new one don’t miss out.
The government is set to re-issue grants to student nurses this year, but many will miss out.
But Mrs Whately wrote: “The Government has no plans to introduce a scheme that will backdate the offer for students who completed courses in earlier years.
“Student nurses in training are supernumerary and are not deemed to be providing a service. They are required to undertake 2,300 hours of clinical practice to learn the skills necessary for entry to the workforce.
“Whilst they may be performing limited clinical duties, this is under close supervision and they are not being paid to staff hospitals.”
Mrs Whately’s letter was written in response to Mr Pursglove, who had contacted the Care Minister on behalf of Ms Collins.
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Student nurses were called upon to help with the NHS’ pandemic efforts,
Ms Collins shared Mrs Whately’s response on her blog, The Student Nurse Mummy, where it has since been shared extensively.
In response to Mrs Whately’s comment that student nurses are “not deemed to be providing a service,” Ms Collins wrote: “No words can truly express the extent of the distress I feel in reading this. We provide so much more than you give us credit for and our qualified colleagues of any level would vouch for that.
“I’ve held parents as they’ve cried over the loss of their child, I’ve been part of the cardiac arrest team working on the child who’s fighting to stay with us, I’ve spent hours single handedly building trust with the children who are scared and overwhelmed, I’ve advocated for the patient who didn’t have everything they needed, I’ve spoken up during times I’ve witnessed something unfair, I’ve cried many tears during the shifts that just took everything I had and I’ve gone home absolutely exhausted from many a night shift where staffing shortages trebled the workload.
“How can you write in black and white, on a letter that is headed by a professional governing body, that we offer nothing to our NHS?”
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Nursingnotes reports that the government’s scrapping of the NHS Bursary system for student nurses and midwives in 2015 led to a significant fall in the number of applicants.
However, Mrs Whately claimed in her letter that the scrapping of the scheme had allowed Universities to offer more training places and “increased upfront financial support to students by around 25 percent”.
On this point, Ms Collins wrote that scrapping the bursary scheme “didn’t exactly work in the government’s favour” and claimed that there are currently 44,000 NHS nursing vacancies.
Piers Morgan responded to Mrs Whately’s letter, calling it “a horrible kick in the teeth to all student nurses”.
Mrs Whately wrote in her letter’s conclusion: “Now more than ever, we value the NHS workforce and appreciate the dedicated care that they provide, and I would like to thank Ms Collins for pursuing a career within the NHS.”