Nursing workforce expansion

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) have announced measures to expand the workforce to support the health and care services during the COVID-19 emergency.

A joint statement was issued on 19 March by NMC, chief nursing officers, Council of Deans of Health, the Department of Health and Social Care, royal colleges and trade unions. This confirmed four actions:

  1. Once the UK government passed the legislation to enable the NMC to establish a COVID-19 temporary emergency register, inviting those nurses who have left the register within the last three years to opt in should they wish to do so;
  2. Encouraging those nurses who are currently on the register but not working in clinical care to consider coming into clinical practice during this time;
  3. Changing the nature of the programme for undergraduate nursing students so that they can opt to undertake their final six months of their programme as a clinical placement;
  4. The next stage of the Covid-19 temporary register would be to establish a specific student part to the emergency register for students in the final six months of their programme, which would have specific conditions of practice to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place.

A second statement issued 25 March provided an update in relation to nursing and midwifery students in all fields, who are not in the final six months of their programme.

More information can be found on the NMC website.

The RCN will provide its expertise with and on behalf of members to inform guidance, negotiate employment terms and conditions within emergency measures, and support members who may be willing to return to clinical practice where appropriate.

The Chief Nursing Officers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are developing deployment guidance for employers, professionals and students, including terms and conditions and remuneration for those on the temporary register and for students who opt on to the register.

New guidance has been published by Health Education England for students in England. Further guidance is expected for students in Wales and Northern Ireland.

New guidance has also been published by the Scottish Government for students in Scotland. If you are a student in Scotland please also refer to these FAQs developed by the RCN.

Please continue to check this page for updates. In the meantime, our FAQs may answer your immediate questions. 

The Education Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) have produced guidance with regards to apprenticeships during the COVID-19 pandemic. See: Department for Education, Coronavirus (COVID-19): apprenticeship programme response.

The ESFA guidance says that:

  • Apprentices should receive the usual funding even if they cannot currently continue in learning or fall out of work as a result of COVID-19.  
  • Apprentices to be able to continue and complete their apprenticeship, despite any break they need to take as a result of COVID-19.

Health Education England is urging Trusts to wherever possible:

  • Not pause learners on the apprenticeship service unless absolutely necessary.  If organisations do need to pause apprentices, please consider each apprentice on an individual basis and where apprentices can be supported to continue learning.
  • Work with training providers to deliver training remotely and via e-learning as far as is practicable and if it doesn’t impact too significantly on workforce capacity.
  • Off the Job Training (OTJ) will still needs to comply with OTJ rules i.e. taking place during working hours.  Use various methods of OTJ, consider e-learning and remote delivery.
  • When apprentices are practicing new skills during the working day, this can be considered as continuing the apprenticeship training. Discuss with the training provider how this can be recorded.
  • Talk to  your training provider about End Point Assessment (EPA) arrangements and see if these can be modified and remote assessments delivered wherever it is practicable and possible. 
  • Where apprentices are ready for assessment but cannot be assessed due to COVID-19 issues, EPAs may be rescheduled and apprentices whose gateway is delayed can have an extension to the assessment timeframe.
  • Breaks in learning rules have been relaxed to allow employers and training providers to initiate breaks in learning.

Further information and guidance documents can be found at:

You can contact the Department for Education Coronavirus Helpline for education related queries on 0800 046 8687 (open 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday) or by emailing DfE.coronavirushelpline@education.gov.uk.

The RCN, UNISON and Unite – trade unions representing nursing students – have reached agreement with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and Chief Nursing Officers across the UK to enable nursing students like you to help your NHS colleagues deal with the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19.

You will be getting advice and guidance from your own union, but together we wanted to outline the major principles of these agreements.

These are that:

  • Nursing students can choose whether or not to go onto clinical placements under these conditions – and you should not feel pressured to do so.
  • Student safety is the priority and that means you are entitled to the same support and protection as all NHS staff. You can expect to be supervised and work within your level of competency.
  • Your education and career are important. You will be supported in your learning and will not be pushed into joining the full register until you are ready.
  • You should not lose out financially. Chief Nursing Officers have committed to ensuring that you will not be disadvantaged whichever choice you make.

Your unions stand behind you because we value your contribution to the NHS. We are there for you and will offer you support and guidance every step of the way.

RCN, UNISON and Unite Logos