Skills at Work Award Winner
Nominated by: The Open University in Wales
Nursing students at the Open University (OU) in Wales who decided to support frontline NHS workers during the pandemic while still studying have won a major award.
The pre-registration programme taken by nursing students at the OU in Wales is spread over four years. The students are already support workers, completing their BSc in nursing alongside their existing, demanding jobs.
When the coronavirus pandemic began in the spring of 2020, the Nursing and Midwifery Council was asked by the Secretary of State to release nursing students to support the NHS. Under this arrangement, nursing students in the second and early third stages of their degrees were eligible. Apart from those required to shield for health reasons, every one of the eligible nursing students at the OU wanted to be part of the response – despite having to balance the demands of working long hours on the frontline with continuing their studies when they returned home.
Ewa Smaglinska moved to North Wales from Poland in 2010 and is studying to become a mental health nurse. She said: “It has been very hard during the pandemic. To be recognised for how we pushed through and overcame this, whilst balancing our studies, feels amazing.” Ewa continued: “Before the pandemic, I finished my first year of nursing. When I received the request it was an easy decision for me. To be able to help others and save lives is more important than anything. For nursing students, the coronavirus pandemic was an opportunity to play our role in a historical global moment, and to develop our nursing care skills in a way we would perhaps never experience again.”
After her planned placements were cancelled, it was with the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) that Ewa began her work on the mental health ward.
She continued: “Things on the ground were moving so quickly. Our understanding of coronavirus was changing, medical practices were evolving, the number of patients was rising rapidly, staff were themselves in and out of work as a result of having Coronavirus as well. “I was always worried about catching the virus and bringing it home. There wasn’t much of a personal life either – it was just work, study and then sleep. But these are things we all went through, and I always felt proud to be doing my bit to make a difference.
“We got through it by being committed to helping people and trying to be as positive as possible. I couldn’t have done it without the support of the registered nurses. They treated me as an equal and valuable member of the team – I can’t believe how much knowledge and experience I’ve gained by being surrounded by them.”