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Why Funding For Paramedic Students Should Be Available To All

By Megan Durling

As a student paramedic in England with a previous undergraduate degree, my motivation to become a paramedic comes at a significant personal cost — £27,750 in tuition fees to be precise.

Unlike my peers who are studying nursing, midwifery and nine other Allied Healthcare Professional (AHP) courses as a second undergraduate degree, paramedic students are prohibited from accessing any financial support from Student Finance England (SFE).

Of course, this was all news to me when I started my Paramedic Science degree at St George’s University of London in September 2018.

Two years earlier, I’d graduated from the University of Bath with a 2:1 Hons in BSc Natural Sciences and then worked as a mental healthcare assistant while deciding which medical career I wanted to pursue.

When I applied to study Paramedic Science I was told by Student Finance England that I would be entitled to funding for my degree because it was an AHP course.

But once I was accepted onto the course it later transpired that I would not be eligible for financial support afterall, which came as a huge shock.

The Impact On Students

It is estimated that five per cent of current students are affected by the lack of equity of funding, and for many prospective mature students this is a significant barrier to higher education.

In an attempt to overcome the financial implications of not being eligible for funding, many students look to paid employment alongside their education, which in itself can present numerous challenges.

For those who do find employment, trying to balance work, life, placement, study and possibly childcare can often result in students suffering from high levels of stress, anxiety, and ultimately burnout. Financial support could significantly ease some of this pressure.

In my case, I turned to my family for help. In an effort to contribute towards my tuition fees, my parents made the difficult decision to remortgage their home, to borrow additional funds, and my mother also chose to return to work in order to support me — a privilege I know not all students have, and one I am extremely grateful for.

But even with my parents’ contribution, it was still necessary for me to secure a part-time job working in a supermarket in order to sustain a living and pay for additional costs such as course equipment, and travel both to and from university, and to and from the locations of my placements across London. 

These are just some of the considerations a mature student has to think about before pursuing a new career. Questions such as: Can I afford to live without a steady income? Will I be able to pay the rent? Can I afford childcare and the necessary travel costs to attend lectures and placement?

If they were studying nursing, midwifery or another eligible AHP course, then the answer to all of these questions would unequivocally be ‘yes’ because they would be entitled to receive full financial support. So why is it different if you want to become a paramedic?

Background

In 2017, the NHS Bursary Reform stated that those students beginning a nursing, midwifery or pre-registration AHP course would be eligible for full funding from Student Finance England, regardless if they already held an equivalent or lower qualification (ELQ).

Despite sufficient evidence to support Paramedic Science being a pre-registration AHP course, the same eligibility for funding rules, however, did not apply to paramedics.

Around the same time, the Health and Care Professions Council announced that as of September 1, 2021, the threshold for entry to register with them as a paramedic had been raised to Bachelor Degree with Honours in Paramedic Science.

While this was undoubtedly a great triumph for the paramedic profession, it made the vast disparity in accessing funds glaringly obvious.

How could student paramedics, who now hold the same professional level qualification as their Allied Health Profession peers, continue to be denied funding when financial assistance is so readily available to those studying other AHP courses as a second degree?

I’m sure most people would agree that we have played, and continue to play an equally vital role as that of our AHP counterparts in the provision of health and care in this country. 

The Learning Support Fund

In January 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care announced all new and existing paramedic students studying at English universities would benefit from additional NHS funding in the form of the Learning Support Fund (LSF) to support the financial implications of their training.

In real terms, this meant that a £5,000 grant was available and student paramedics were at last being offered a much-needed financial lifeline.

Megan Durling, Author & Student Paramedic

However, delight quickly turned to frustration when it emerged that those students who held a previous degree would not be eligible for the LSF.

In order to be entitled to the grant, students must qualify for funding from Student Finance England which begs the question: Why is the grant only offered to those already in receipt of financial support?

Final Thoughts

As a paramedic student with a previous degree, all I am asking for is a level playing field with my AHP peers, with whom we work in tandem to provide care and support to our patients across the UK.

I believe that to accomplish this, all paramedic students, as deserving members of the Allied Health Professions, studying either a primary or secondary degree, should be eligible for financial support throughout their studies, from Student Finance England and the Learning Support Fund to cover tuition fee costs and associated living and travel expenses.

For me, choosing to become a paramedic is the best decision I’ve ever made, but without my family’s support I know it wouldn’t have been possible.

I’m one of the lucky ones, but there are countless students with undergraduate degrees who would dearly love to become paramedics and can’t, simply because there’s no financial aid available to them. It’s so unjust, and we need it to change.

For more information and to support the campaign, visit www.collegeofparamedics.co.uk – News – Campaign for Student Funding.

For enquires please contact the campaign’s Student Press and Communications Officer, Charlotte Austwick: charlotte.austwick@collegeofparamedics.co.uk

Or Student Campaign Manager, and author of this piece, Megan Durling: megan.durling@collegeofparamedics.co.uk

Why I Decided to Respond to the Covid Call-Up

By Gerry Egan QAM, FCPara
Published in Ambulance Today, Issue 2, Volume 17, SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic — Global EMS Response,
Summer Edition 2020

I retired from full time work as Chief Executive of the College of Paramedics on December 31, 2019 with full intentions of rekindling my musicianship and building my bike workshop.

Like most of the world, I watched with horror and incredible sadness the spread of Coronavirus across the globe and its inevitable arrival in the UK.

Spending most of my ambulance life in the Scottish Ambulance Service and knowing the work, training and planning that the service had been doing for many years it was no surprise when the request was made both by the Scottish Ambulance Service and NHS Scotland for retired staff to return to work if possible.

A number of thoughts went through my head; not least, at 64 years of age, ‘was the risk too high in terms of being able to do the job?’

I still work part-time as a paramedic in motorsports and had no concerns about my clinical capability but did have concerns about spending lengthy periods in PPE. Not only that, but did I have the level of physical fitness to cope with 12 hour shifts and the physicality of frontline work?

I considered my mental health too. In the end however, I came to the conclusion that my personal resilience, and the very close networks of family, friends and colleagues I have, made me as well prepared as any other paramedic at this time.

In my heart I knew I could assist and wanted to help in any way I could. One of my go to questions internally from Doc Hinds sprung to mind: “Are my intentions honourable?” Yes, they were.

I completed the online forms and submitted my application through the Scottish Government systems. A few days later I had a couple of responses and started the process of being recruited to Bank Staff with both NHS Lothian and the Scottish Ambulance Service.

A number of calls have had a significant mental health element to them … On several occasions I have stayed on a call … to listen and chat, and hopefully help the patient.

I had discussions with my wife and family and we decided that frontline ambulance was not going to be the best thing for me to do. My previous post was as clinical director and my paramedic consultant post was in clinical decision-making around telephone triage, and this was the area I offered to return in.

I attended a three-day course with the Scottish Ambulance Service and, along with a number of others who returned to the service, worked through the core skills and changes that had taken place over the last few years. This included a driving assessment on a modern ambulance to ensure that we were safe and competent. 

Looking around the room at our “socially distanced” group it was clear that there was close to 600 years of experience between us. Yet despite this, we all shared very honestly the trepidation we felt, the limitations we thought we may have and our overwhelming desire to help patients in whatever way we could.

Gerry Egan QAM, FCPara, hard at work on his bike

Mental preparation for me was going to be important. Like most paramedics, I have seen my share of good and bad things over the years and expected this would be amongst the worst and most challenging.

My own decision was to limit myself to one news programme a day, watch the government briefings and follow on social media the people I found to be factual and credible and non-sensationalist. I followed the scientific evidence as it appeared, and developed my own opinion on what was going to be right for me and my family.

Coronavirus was, and still is affecting our family in the same way as every other person in the country. We weren’t able to see or hug our grandkids for several months which was incredibly tough and our youngest son, who is an adult and has learning disabilities was in lockdown with his carers for fourteen weeks, so we had to rely on the wonderful care team to keep us updated. Thankfully, since then, we’ve been able to have him home for a weekend which was pretty emotional.

I started my first shift with NHS Lothian in the Covid hub at the beginning of May 2020 and, after a short induction and familiarisation with the software and processes, I was up and running. The team is mostly made up of General Practitioners, and I am the only paramedic on the team.

The GPs have been incredibly supportive and are always on hand to answer a question or suggest a direction for a patient. Learning the referrals pathway has been a steep learning curve, but again I’ve been assisted by a team happy to advise and support.

From a paramedic perspective, the work (I do 3 or 4 shifts per week in the Covid Triage Centre) is interesting and very different to working on an ambulance. I see a patient’s clinical record, emergency care summary, previous NHS contact and current medicines all before I speak to the patient or carer.

This adds greatly to the decision-making process and assists in getting a good patient outcome. A number of calls have had a significant mental health element to them, often due to lockdown changing people’s interaction with the world around them. On several occasions I have stayed on a call (when no other patients are waiting) to listen and chat, and hopefully help the patient.

To date, I have not been asked to undertake any ambulance shifts as current demand and levels are being incredibly well managed by NHS boards. But if the situation changes in the future, then I’m more than ready and willing to do my bit.