‘Nurses should not work for free,’ insisted Dr Peter Carter, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing yesterday.
He was commenting on newly qualified nurses being urged to work in NHS hospital wards for free or for small training allowances, in the guise that they are taking up ‘honorary preceptorships’ which will aid them to get employment.
A preceptorship is a three to four month period when newly qualified nurses are ‘mentored’ by an experienced nurse when they first take up employment on a trade union negotiated pay rate.
Carter said: ‘Trusts are not employing new nurses because they are struggling to balance their books because of NHS deficits.
‘This is yet another example of nurses and ultimately patients having to pay for failures in the system.
‘We are training nurses that are desperately needed, and then not giving them jobs.
‘It is a terrible waste of their skills, it is wrong that they should be asked to work for free. The government should be tackling this issue as a matter of urgency.
‘It is vital that newly qualified nurses get a proper period of paid preceptorship.
‘That nurses are willing to work for free or a small “training allowance” is a testament to their dedication and commitment.’
His remarks followed an article in the Nursing Standard journal which accused Durham and Darlington Trust, and North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trusts, of exploiting newly qualified nurses by encouraging them to take up schemes paying either nothing, or a £480 a month training allowance.
The £480 a month training allowance is the equivalent of being paid £2.60 an hour, just under half of the minimum wage.
The Nursing Standard said: ‘The North Tees trust has set up an honorary preceptorship scheme under which graduates are not paid.
‘Although two graduates expressed an interest they did not pursue the offer, according to the trust.
‘The scheme is still being offered to recently qualified nurses.’
RCN official Glen Turp said: ‘We have talked to the two trusts and would hope that they would find the means to reward qualified nurses with the salary they deserve.’
According to the RCN, almost two-thirds of about 1,000 newly-qualified nurses will not find work in the North East and Cumbria.
Laura Robson, director of nursing at County Durham and Darlington Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said the trust had ‘designed a structured four-month programme’ and that during the preceptorship period, nurses receive a training allowance of £480 per month.
RCN acting officer for the northern region Lin Clarkson said: ‘This is morally and ethically wrong and we have raised the issue with both trusts. It is not only about pay but also delivery of care.’
The Durham and Darlington foundation trust Unison branch secretary Ted Robertson said: ‘This smacks of exploitation and it seems as though they are being used on the cheap. It will only make people bitter and they will not forget it.’