Peterborough hospital student nurse at centre of media storm over minister comments

Student nurse Jessica Collins works at Peterborough City HospitalStudent nurse Jessica Collins works at Peterborough City Hospital
Student nurse Jessica Collins works at Peterborough City Hospital
A mum told by a government minister that student nurses like her ‘are not providing a service to the NHS’ says the response is ‘like a slap in the face’ after working on the frontline in Peterborough during the pandemic.

A media storm has blown up over the comment made by care minister Helen Whately in a letter to Corby MP Tom Pursglove after he had raised the nurses debt issue on behalf of constituent Jessica Collins, from Kingscliffe,  who has been campaigning to cancel the colossal debt current student nurses have racked up during training.

GMB TV anchorman Piers Morgan has spoken out on the matter today (Monday, June 22) and Jessica will be doing interviews with national media throughout the day.

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Jessica, who finishes her third year of studies this September, is among the cohort of students who have trained between 2017 and 2020 without any form of bursary and she will qualify in the region of £60,000 in debt.

Student nurse Jessica Collins pictured with her children.Student nurse Jessica Collins pictured with her children.
Student nurse Jessica Collins pictured with her children.

They have been working on the frontline during the coronavirus pandemic, on a paid contract since April  but this is due to finish in July – earlier than until as September originally promised.

That means Jessica, who has been working at Peterborough City Hospital’s children’s A&E department throughout the pandemic, will have a few months without any income until she takes up her permanent post at the same hospital.

In the letter to Tom Pursglove, Helen Whately said: “The government has no plans to introduce a scheme that will backdate the offer for students who completed courses in earlier years.

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“Student nurses in training are supernumery and are not deemed to be providing a service.”

Jessica, who has two children aged four and seven and who writes a blog called @thestudentnursetmummy, said the comments were offensive, have made her feel ‘worthless’ and also question the amount of sacrifice she has made to train to become an NHS nurse.

Like all student nurses she has to do 2,300 clinical practical hours before qualifying alongside her university studies. An online petition set up by her about the government scrapping the debt has gained 200,000 signatures. She asked Tom Pursglove to get involved after the petition did not receive a government response.

She said: “My first response to the letter was shock. Shock at the minister’s lack of understanding of what we as student nurses have been doing. She would just have to spend a day with us to realise what we offer to the NHS. Then I was upset, and I have cried many times. And then I was angry and so decided to share the letter on my blog.

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“The government’s decision (not to cancel the debt)  needs to be looked at again. I want it to be reassessed.

“This is a real kick in the teeth after we have stood up to be counted in this crisis.

“The letter has made me question whether I am coming into the right area of work. There is a lack of appreciation for what we work for. It has made me feel worthless.

“We are doing many hours in the NHS and doing vital work and we are paying the government for the privilege of doing so. I feel they are taking advantage of the good nature of student nurses.”

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Alongside her 12 hour shifts in hospital Jessica also has to write a 5,000 word dissertation, and other lengthy reports in order to qualify. She has been surviving on a maintenance loan and also universal credit. She pays £9.250 in tuition fees to De Montfort University. Hers was the first cohort of nurses to have to pay to train and the nurses who start this September will receive a £5,000 bursary. Jessica has received no government funding at all to help.

She said working in a hospital at a time of the pandemic has been very hard and has impacted on her mental health and that of colleagues who have worked on coronavirus wards.

She said: “With everything that is going on right now the stress has been ten-fold. Also having my children at home and homeschooling on top of that. The government could help to alleviate some of that stress but they are choosing not to.”

Jessica, who thinks herself and her family have had coronavirus, although at the time tests were not available,  says the minister did not respond for many weeks to her MPs letter and thinks it was only after she posted an open letter on her blog that a response was received.

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In an earlier open letter to Boris Johnson last December – which was not responded to – she spelled out the toll of training as a nurse.

She said: “I’m going to leave university with a degree that I’m proud of, but I’m also going to leave with £50,000 plus worth of debt despite working 37.5/40 hour weeks in hospitals and medical centres throughout placements.

“I’m going to leave an exhausted, utterly drained and completely different person to the one that walked through those doors just over 2 years ago. Sometimes I think this course is quite frankly going to break me. The tears I’ve cried could fill Loch Ness.

“Why do I continue to do it? I have a love, and genuine passion for what I do. I’m in a position where I can make a difference to the lives of sick and vulnerable children and quite frankly there’s not much I can imagine that is more rewarding than that.

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“You however, just use and take advantage of that. Yourself and others around you have taken advantage of the passion and drive in student nurses like myself, and thrown us straight into the deep end knowing that because of that passion to do what we love, we will probably swim anyway without any support.”

Jessica, who is a member of the Royal College of Nursing union, has a virtual meeting with the union and the care minister next week. She hopes to get an apology for the comments made in the letter.

Jessica’s petition can be viewed here:

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