Students in UNISON

UNISON’s Student Nurse Lead, Joy O’Gorman, reflects on the enormous progress that has been made for UNISON’s student members over the previous 12 months and what work lies ahead as discussions take place to address the workforce crisis.

The last year has been both a challenging and very proactive year for UNISON healthcare student networking and campaigning.

The pandemic meant many changes for health students. The disruption to courses was significant and has had significant consequences for both students as individuals and the NHS as a service reliant upon students graduating on a consistent timeline.

We had to adapt to new ways of consulting students quickly on these proposals and find new ways of engaging. Our new twitter handle @UNISONStudentNN for Student Nurses and Midwives was launched and has already proven to be a pivotal platform for the student voice. Thank you to the incredible support shown by UNISON branches within our four nations with retweets and collaborations.

The UNISON student network has met regularly to listen to and advocate for students throughout the UK. We have worked closely with national healthcare leaders and lobbied MPs on student rights including life assurance and protections during covid-19 placements. This has meant students having equal access to PPE and vaccinations whilst working alongside NHS staff. It is concerning that students were encountering barriers to vaccination without a payroll number and I am proud that our collaborations with national leaders led to improvements.

We also launched student learning month in October 2020 with several online webinars which proved to be a huge success, with more to follow in 2021.

UNISON student members from all over the UK met in March to hold our first online debate on the reduction of the 2300 NMC clinical hours. Some great points were raised from both sides about the importance of protecting and improving quality of learning, the importance of clinical placements and supervision during learning. The speakers clearly managed to sway initial votes, to 60% against the motion after some persuasive arguments and evidence of just how much students value their learning time with NHS teams on the front line. Representatives of the NMC attended the debate and gained some valuable insights into student experiences and needs.

We continue to lobby the Government on student tuition fees and to try to ensure that student supernumerary status is protected, particularly as organisations now seek to address placement capacity issues due to a backlog of lost hours in an ever-growing pressured NHS learning environment. Current times, although challenging, have really evidenced to students the importance of joining a trade union and being part of a collective voice.

It has been an absolute privilege working with the UNISON health team and to have been elected by my peers to be the student representative on UNISON’s National Nursing and Midwifery Occupational Group. UNISON student members are being seen and heard and our voice matters. Long may this continue amongst UNISON, with healthcare leaders and on the frontline with our peers and future colleagues. If you are not already following us on @UNISONStudentNN please check our page out and say hello, we would love to hear from you.