Hayley Walton was just finishing her second year in adult nursing at the University of Bolton when the first case was announced in March.
That’s when the 27-year-old was asked to step up and help fight the virus on the NHS frontline, Manchester Evening News report.
She had been due to go on placement with the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, in order to complete her final year and qualify as a nurse.
But as hospitals across the country became overwhelmed with patients, she and fellow students were offered to start their career early.
Hayley signed a contract for temporary paid employment at Royal Bolton Hospital from June until September 2020.
For two months she worked long 12-hour shifts, proud to be doing her bit, and witnessing moments she believes she will never be able to forget.
But in August, her contract was cut short, and she was told by the government she could return to her placement as she was no longer needed.
Now, Hayley is working the same shifts, doing the same hours, and witnessing the same tragedies – without being paid for it.
“We just wanted to step in to help out because that is why we came into this career,” Hayley said.
“When I opted in I was at the end of my second year so I didn’t really have much experience of death. Now I have gone to seeing it every day.
“Being that person holding someone’s hand knowing they are going to pass away is a lot to carry – especially when you’re not qualified.
“Some of the things I have seen will never leave me.”
Hayley had been working in a coronavirus ward until August, when her paid contract was cut short.
She was told by her university that she would need to go back to completing her 37 hours a week of placement, at the same hospital.
“It was a bit of a kick in the teeth to be honest,” Hayley said.
“Over the last few months it has been getting really busy again and now we are back to where we were in the first wave.
“As students, we are still doing the same full time hours but this time we aren’t being paid for it.
“Most of us are having work 37 hours a week on placement and then pick up other shifts on the side to actually make any money to live.
“We are absolutely exhausted and worn out.”
Hayley contracted Covid-19 whilst working in the hospital back in June, and was forced to take three weeks off as a result.
“We stepped up during the first wave and a lot of us got Covid-19,” she said.
“It did actually get to a point where I had to call 111 because I was quite scared – I was very breathless and had chest pain.
“Those three weeks I had off, I have now have to make those hours up otherwise I won’t qualify on time.
“A lot of nursing students are currently behind on their course just because they caught coronavirus.”
Hayley has since written a letter to her MP, demanding that the government recognise the hard work she and other student nurses are putting in.
In June, another student nurse named Jess Collins, wrote to her MP making the case for providing student nurses with financial support.
The social care minister, Helen Whately, replied saying she had no plans to backdate a financial support package that is set to be introduced for students starting this autumn.
She justified this decision by stating that students who were being called to work on the Covid-19 frontline are ‘not providing a service’.
A petition demanding pay for student nurses and midwives working during Covid-19 has already reached more than 5,650 signatures and counting.
“I would like to see government ministers step on a Covid ward and see what students do day in and day out – it just isn’t fair,” she said.
“We just feel like we’ve had no recognition at all. We haven’t got anything left to give.
“Lots of students are on the bank as health care assistants so they can pick up paid work when they are not on placement.”
Hayley says her total student debt when she finishes her three-year degree this year will amount to £55,000.
“We are doing this career because we care and not for the money but there are so many negatives right now,” she said.
“Having to do all those hours on the wards and then still having to do assignments has been really hard.
“We are all just fed up with the way we have been treated by the government.”
Professor Mark Radford, Chief Nurse, Health Education England said: “Our priority is for students to remain students, gain supernumerary clinical experience in order to complete their studies and join the NHS and Care services as soon as they can graduate.
“We are working with local systems to identify the best way to support their efforts whilst protecting students and their education having learnt lessons from the first wave.”
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