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ROGER WATSON: Nursing students’ dreams crushed under Covid jackboot

Roger Watson is a British academic. He is a professor of nursing at the University of Hull.

WE are all aware of the unfair sacking of thousands of nursing home staff and the impending dismissal of NHS staff who refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

These blatant abuses of human rights and, specifically the right to decide what medical treatment you wish to have, are about to be compounded by the dismissal of another group about which little has been said: nursing students.

Nursing students have just been reminded that they need to be vaccinated on pain of not being able to continue with their studies in a sinister document titled Vaccination as a Condition of Deployment issued by Health Education England.

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The students, thousands of whom will be in their final year of study are informed: “All students and trainees undertaking practice placements, that have face to face contact with patients and service users, in any CQC regulated service will be required to be fully vaccinated by 31 March 2022.”

“If you have not been vaccinated by 31 March, you will not be able to undertake placements that require contact with patients, which will affect your ability to complete your programme and join your regulatory body’s register (Nursing and Midwifery Council [NMC] or Health and Care Professions Council [HCPC]).”

The euphemistic “will affect your ability to complete your programme” is code for “you will be dismissed from your nursing programme.”

Exemptions are available and the students are directed to a GOV.UK document titled: COVID-19 medical exemptions: proving you are unable to get vaccinated. But in the document under the heading “Reasons you could get a medical exemption” there is not much comfort for the nursing students who do not wish to be vaccinated.

There is, for example, no religious exemption but there is one bullet point which is interesting; you may be exempt from being fully vaccinated if you are one of “those who have had an adverse reaction to the first dose (for example, myocarditis)”.

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This is contradicted in the guidance issued by the NHS on vaccine safety where, admittedly rare, the possibility of myocarditis is clearly explained.

We do not know the extent of vaccine hesitancy and refusal among nursing students, but I know that colleagues in nursing education are now very busy trying to find out. If the numbers are large then the government, in addition to being on the verge of depleting the NHS of over 80,000 clinical staff who are refusing to be vaccinated, is on the verge of cutting off the supply of clinical staff.

Nursing students are not alone as medical and allied health students will be in the same position.

However, the numbers are not really the issue here it is the unfairness of preventing individual nursing students from completing their programmes and fulfilling their dream of becoming a Registered Nurse.

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It is also very unfair if, to fulfil that dream, any nursing student is forced to take a Covid vaccine against their wishes. If ever there was a case for Universities UK to take up on behalf of their students, then this is it. Their members, the individual vice-chancellors of the universities which belong to Universities UK, have been busy implementing and even going beyond government Covid restrictions, for example on mask mandates.

It is probably no surprise that their silence on this issue is deafening.

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