Early on in the Covid-19 outbreak, student nurses in their third year of study were called to join NHS colleagues in the fight against coronavirus. Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust welcomed 44 Aspirant nurses to its team to provide care to patients at this challenging time, and now 38 of these nurses will be staying on as qualified members of staff in permanent roles. Sussex Partnership provides mental health and learning disability services across Sussex and Hampshire to children, young people and adults in community and inpatient settings.
Millie Fairweather, a student nurse from Brighton, also took the brave step to join the NHS as a mental health nurse at this critical time. Millie joined Regency Ward at Mill View Hospital in Hove.
Millie said: "At first, it was a very uncertain and nerve-wracking time. Hearing mixed messages from both media reports and the Nursing and Midwifery Council was unsettling. Looking back, I feel proud of the challenges I have risen to and feel it has positively shaped me with regards to qualifying as a registered mental health nurse.
"This experience has enabled me to grow more than I had expected. At first, I did not feel ready but looking back I am extremely grateful for this opportunity. I have learnt such a lot and feel my confidence has come such a long way. It has really helped aid the transition to becoming a qualified registered mental health nurse. I have secured a full time post on Regency Ward now as a qualified member of staff and am excited to start my career here."
Abby Jelley, a student nurse from London, chose to opt in to an extended placement as an Aspirant nurse midway through writing her dissertation in May. Student nurses who made this admirable choice continued their studies alongside starting their nursing careers in a paid role six months earlier than planned. Abby's new role took her to Brunswick Ward, a specialist dementia ward, at Mill View Hospital in Hove.
Abby explains: "When I first started on Brunswick ward, there had been a Covid-19 outbreak and people who tested positive were being nursed in their bedrooms, with staff wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE). Initially I found this quite frightening and my first instinct was to run away!
"However, after a few days of 'learning the ropes' I came to realise that we were all in the same boat and no one had experienced a pandemic like this before. I think the team here did an amazing job especially whilst many permanent staff were isolating due to Covid-19, too."
Abby's role was to work alongside the existing nursing team to care for patients and to help keep things feeling as normal as possible. Brunswick Ward has purpose designed communal space for people with dementia to help them feel comfortable and safe in their surroundings, so to be nursed only in their bedrooms, as they isolated from the rest of the ward, would have been very challenging.
Raymond McCullagh, Ward Manager for Regency Ward said: "Having the Aspirant nurses over the Covid-19 pandemic has been invaluable and essential to keep our inpatient services running smoothly. Regency Ward had three Aspirant nurses who brought skills and knowledge to the team as well as a 'can-do' attitude. They fitted into the team seamlessly and we are looking forward to welcoming Millie to join our team permanently. Our staff team and the people we look after have been very thankful for the wonderful support the Aspirant nurses have provided."
Both Millie and Abby look back on their time as Aspirant nurses positively.
Abby explains: "Naturally, I was nervous about starting in this new role several months before I had planned. One minute we're students/supernumerary and the next we're in the staffing numbers and allowed to do everything. It was a lot for me, but also for the established nursing team, to get to grips with!
"But, I think we all quickly got used to it and I settled into the ward. I've enjoyed feeling a part of a team and not just 'the student nurse'. Sometimes as a student I felt like a spare part but I was never made to feel that way on Brunswick. I've enjoyed the balance of nursing assistant roles and student nurse roles. It has been a privilege to be an Aspirant nurse and to be a part of tackling the Covid-19 crisis within the NHS."
Millie agrees and says: "Unlike previous placements, I am in the numbers. This has allowed me to feel properly part of the team, which has helped me to become more confident in my role now and for when I qualify. "
Of the 44 nurses who joined Sussex Partnership as Aspirant nurses, 38 will continue with the Trust in full time employment as they begin their careers. All nurses were offered permanent roles following their outstanding work as Aspiring nurses.
If you are interested in making a difference, working for the NHS and supporting people with mental health problems in Sussex, there are a wide variety of clinical and non-clinical roles available here: https://www.sussexpartnership.nhs.uk/join-us