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We have set up the UK’s first online student nurse assessment placements so Covid-19 shielders can become the nurses of the future

We have made it possible for student nurses shielding from Covid-19 to attend ‘Zoom style’ lockdown health visits so they can pass their degree practical assessments this year – in what is believed to be the first training of its type in the country.

Each year, we take on a number of nurses from universities on placements to help them learn on the job and complete their courses

The coronavirus pandemic called into question whether many at universities in Essex would be able to complete the essential nine-week placement element of their nursing degrees within time for safety reasons – potentially leaving their years of study in limbo.

But we were determined these third-year undergraduates were able to continue their studies and qualify by the end of this year – as originally planned – allowing them to become the nurses of the future.

Our Essex Child and Family Wellbeing Service (ECFWS), run in partnership with Barnardo’s for the NHS and Essex County Council, quickly put a plan in place using specialist secure software to guard patient confidentiality.

And that means 21 students from the University of Essex and Anglia Ruskin’s University – many of whom are shielding – are now virtually attending various health visits, including new birth visits, child developmental assessments and antenatal evaluations.

The virtual assessment placements were set up by The Learning Enterprise Practice Education Team  in close partnership with the two educational establishments. The Learning Enterprise is Virgin Care’s Training and Development Department, and is an Ofsted-registered apprenticeship provider.

They have been established with a range of learning approaches including formally taught sessions, case studies, podcasts and role play scenarios.

This has not only supported the students during COVID-19, it has allowed them to obtain the necessary 300 to 500 hours required to qualify – depending on their course – as registered child, adult and mental health nurses.

And while lockdown is easing and shielding is due to be stalled, Virgin Care still seeks to offer this capability as it does not wish to deter potential future nurses from entering such rewarding and important profession.

Karen Wilson, the Regional Education Lead for Virgin Care’s training department The Learning Enterprise, said: “We are committed to help bring about the nursing professionals of the future in the communities that we service and offering nursing degrees in partnership with local universities is really important to  us.

“When the pandemic started we had a number of students in Essex who were shielding and we did not want them to lose out after showing so much commitment so developed this innovative programme”

Feedback from students such as Romi Dhillon, a third year adult nursing student pictured above, has been tremendously positive.

She said: “Virtual placement is a brilliant idea for those like me who are unable to attend a clinical area due to the pandemic. This virtual placement is allowing me to continue practising towards qualifying. I look forward to learning on a 1:1 and group basis over the next 8 weeks with the support from Virgin Care health professionals gaining a real insight into their roles as health visitors and school nurses.”

Amy Pope is another student hoping to qualify in the next six months: She added: “I feel so privileged and lucky to have Essex Child and Family Wellbeing Service providing such an amazing, independent placement so far…. so much compassion, kindness and dedication from the team there.”

Chris Green, Placements and Employability Development Director at the University of Essex, said: “The virtual programme that Essex Child and Family Wellbeing Service have developed has enabled students who were not able to access in-situ placements with an opportunity to undertake clinical placement hours and progress their practice proficiencies.  Students engaged in the virtual placement continue to report an excellent level of supervision, support as well as significant benefits to their progression through their nursing programme.”

Annie Cowcher, an Education Champion from Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Virgin Care made the amazing, and totally unsolicited, offer of providing a virtual placement for these students. This placement has commenced and I have rarely received such positive feedback from students. They describe it as a friendly, amazing experience in which they are learning much and receiving close supervision. In fact, I have been told ‘this is the best placement ever’”

The virtual programme is receiving positive attention from elsewhere in the country, including Lancashire University.

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