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Student nurse blasts Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whately over 'not providing a service' claims

The student nurse whose letter prompted a Kent MP to claim the sector was "not providing a service to the NHS" says the response is "like a slap in the face" after working on the frontline during the pandemic.

Care minster and Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whately made the claims in a letter to another MP, Tom Pursglove (Con), after he had raised constituent mum-of-two Jessica Collins' debt issue.

Jessica Collins says Helen Whately's claims are 'a slap in the face'. Picture: Jessica Collins
Jessica Collins says Helen Whately's claims are 'a slap in the face'. Picture: Jessica Collins

Miss Collins, who has been campaigning to cancel the colossal debt current student nurses have racked up during training, will owe almost £60,000 when she qualifies.

She has been working on the frontline during the pandemic on a paid contract since April but this is due to finish next month.

Her contract was originally in place until September, but that deadline has now been brought forward.

Miss Collins is in her third year of studies without any bursary and this September, along with many other students, is due to qualify.

It means, Miss Collins who has been working in a children's A&E department in Peterborough, will have a few months without any income until she takes up her permanent post at the same hospital.

Faversham MP Helen Whately. Picture: Paul Amos
Faversham MP Helen Whately. Picture: Paul Amos

In the letter to Corby MP Mr Pursglove, Mrs Whately, said: “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 supernumery and are not deemed to be providing a service.”

Miss Collins, who has two children aged four and seven and writes a blog called @thestudentnursemummy, said the comments were offensive, have made her feel "worthless" and also questions 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 calling on the government to scrap the debt has gained 300,000 signatures and she asked her MP to get involved after it did not receive a government response.

Mum of two and student nurse, Jessica Collins. Picture: Jessica Collins
Mum of two and student nurse, Jessica Collins. Picture: Jessica Collins

The row gained national coverage earlier today when GMB anchorman Piers Morgan spoke out on the matter by saying it was "a horrible kick in the teeth for all student nurses," and Miss Collins is now set to do national interviews on the issue.

However, Mrs Whatley has now defended herself, stating the status for students in the sector is "a technical definition created to ensure they have the space and time to learn."

Speaking earlier today, Miss Collins 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.

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

“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.”

Alongside her 12-hour shifts in hospital, she 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 Universal Credit. She pays £9,250 in tuition fees to her 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.

Miss Collins has received no government funding at all.

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

She added: “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.”

She also says Mrs Whatley did not respond for many weeks to her MP's letter and thinks it was only after she posted an open letter on her blog that a response was received.

In an 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 to 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 two 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.

“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.”

Miss Collins, 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.

To sign her petition click here.

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