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Workforce failings leaving students covering rotas and puts nurse education at risk

16 May 2023

Nurses at the RCN Congress today (16 May) heard how the crisis in the nursing workforce is seeing student nurses used to cover gaps in rotas and putting their education at risk.

Louise Hyett Collins and Chloe Jackson Student nurses report being asked to take on the roles of nursing support workers, as well as having to cover staff shortages as a result of nursing vacancies. Students are being asked to provide care rather than observing and learning and registered nurse shortages are resulting in limited teaching, mentoring and support.

In an RCN survey last year less than half of respondents from Scotland said that students held supernumerary status (47%). Supernumerary status means that students are not counted in the registered nurse and nursing support worker numbers required to provide direct patient care during that shift. Clinical placements are a core element of a degree in nursing and should provide a positive learning environment that allows student nurses to practice and develop clinical skills under the supervision of registered nurses.    

While it is important students experience the full range of shifts as part of their education, their experience is often being compromised. With over 4,100 registered nursing posts vacant in NHS Scotland alone, there are not enough experienced nursing staff to fully supervise and assess students whilst on placement. These vacancies, coupled with the massive pressures on the NHS are leading to students missing out on the necessary supervision to complete their learning.

Chloe Jackson and Louise Hyett Collins, RCN Scotland members who represent Scotland on the RCN Student Committee both spoke to the resolution.

Chloe Jackson, student nurse from Grampian, said:

“Student nurses are the nurses of the future, however there are times in our nursing journey we feel like a cost-effective pair of hands to plug the gap in the workforce of today.

“Being thrown in at the deep end before being qualified is a huge factor in student nurse burn out, and this does nothing to prevent students from dropping out of their course and adds to the nursing workforce attrition crisis.

“Students must be valued and invested in rather than sent onto the frontline before they are equipped. Failing to do this now will risk student education today and the nurses of the future.”

Eileen Mckenna, Associate Director Nursing, Policy & Professional Practice, RCN Scotland said: 

“Nursing students came forward during the pandemic to help care for patients and the pressures that it brought undoubtedly impacted their education.

“Now we are seeing some of the same students have their education damaged further by the pressures in the nursing workforce.

“Students must be allowed to learn at the right pace and without disruption - not to be used to plug gaps in rotas when they should be developing their skills.

“If we continue in this way more students will drop out and the future nursing workforce will be put at further risk.”

Page last updated - 15/10/2023