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U-turn on student nurse vaccine mandate welcomed

Government scraps rule that would have prevented unvaccinated student nurses graduating

Nursing groups have welcomed a government U-turn on rules that would have barred student nurses in England from clinical placements required for graduation if they had not been vaccinated against Covid-19.

The government has previously said vaccination would be required for all frontline NHS staff, including student nurses and doctors.

On 31 January, health secretary Sajid Javid said this position was “no longer proportionate”.

The previous rule required students on nursing courses to have had at least two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of March to join a placement. Student nurses must carry out clinical placements in order to graduate.

The rule also applied to student doctors but the proportion of those trainees who are unvaccinated is thought to be minimal. Sources say as many as one in ten student nurses may not be vaccinated.

The Royal College of Nursing welcomed the row back from Javid.

“Vaccination is hugely important but this was the wrong policy, especially as it added to the current pressure on NHS and care services,” said Patricia Marquis, RCN Director of England.

Previously, those students who would not have had two doses by 31 March were advised to talk to their universities, which Health Education England said would “be able to advise on your individual circumstances and what that means for you in relation to your programme of study”. Students faced having to get their first dose by 3 February to meet the deadline.

In the now-replaced guidance, Health Education England said that although it is the responsibility of students to make sure they get vaccinated, universities “should encourage the vaccination as part of their communications with students…and ascertain students’ vaccination status to enable clinical placement education to occur”.

Health Education England said that the Council of Deans of Health, which represents university health faculties, was “looking at a number of issues” relating to that guidance.

Speaking ahead of the government U-turn, a spokesperson for the council said: “Given the integral role NHS placements have for healthcare students, the vaccine mandate de facto applies to all undertaking these courses at English universities. The Council of Deans of Health has been working to get clarity on all of the implications of this, engaging partners in the NHS, Health Education England and across government.”

Also speaking before the U-turn, Liz Fenton, deputy chief nurse at Health Education England, said the body was “working with the university sector to support students, raise awareness of the legislation and answer their questions”.

“We do appreciate people have differing personal circumstances so we are working with our colleagues across the education, health and care sectors to ensure that we are providing the right information and support so they can take action which is relevant to their situation,” she added.