Pay healthcare students a living wage for their placements
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There are thousands of university students in the UK studying healthcare courses; including Nursing, Midwifery, Healthcare Science, Radiography, Physiotherapy, and many more. Throughout their course, these students will undertake clinical work placements to give them the essential first-hand experience required for them to graduate as competent healthcare professionals. As they progress through their degree, these students will have more duties, greater responsibility, and of course, longer hours. However, for the entirety of their courses, they will not be paid a single penny.
Each healthcare profession has differing work patterns, but all work equally hard. Be it the standard working week of 9-5, Monday to Friday, or a week of night shifts, students put in as many hours as the qualified NHS staff they work alongside. By their final year, most students have exactly the same responsibilities and duties as they would do after completing their degree, and are essentially unpaid staff.
Despite working full-time hours, the students still have assignments and dissertations to complete for university. When not on placement, any precious free time must be used to catch up on work, rather than earning any money at a part time job. It is simply not feasible for students to work full time on placement, have a part time job, and have time to complete work without exhausting themselves. Additionally, students can have multiple placements at different locations throughout the year. It is virtually impossible for them to get any sort of reliable employment, and therefore income, simply because between balancing time at university and placement, students are never in the same place for long.
To put things into perspective, the majority of university students who have a work placement as part of their degree, are paid at least the national minimum wage; the average salary being £15,000 per annum. As well as this, most universities reduce the tuition fees for placement years tuition by at least half, so while on placement, these students only have to pay £4,500 (or less) rather than the standard yearly fee of £9,000. In their final year, many students only attend university for 6 weeks, while the rest of the time is spent on placement. Healthcare students still have to pay the full £9,000 for these 6 weeks.
It is not always possible for students to get placements in a location convenient to them. This leads some students to have daily commutes that last several hours, and aside from this being very tiring, the cost of these commutes for individuals is not taken into account. For example, some students may receive a standardised travel fund of £25 a week, however the cost of a weekly train ticket is more than double this for some students because they have to travel so far. Individual circumstances are not taken into consideration when it comes to allocating travel funds, leading students to build up massive debts; in addition to the tuition and maintenance loans that they already owe.
Healthcare students are not like other university students, who can rent halls of residence or a flat for the duration of their degree because their course is always based at the university; they know where they’ll be and when, and can get local part time jobs to earn more money. The situation is entirely different for healthcare students, and yet the financial implications of the nature of their degrees are never considered. The standard maintenance loans that are available to all university students are simply not sufficient for healthcare students. These hardworking young people wish to devote their lives to helping members of our society. One day they could deliver your baby, care for a sick relative when they’re in hospital, or even help to fit your pacemaker if you may ever need one. As our NHS faces crisis, the healthcare professionals of the future are more valuable than ever. Let’s not force them to live in poverty while they train.
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