Various transport fee-waiving schemes have been put in place by different regional authorities, to recognise the invaluable work of the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic and ease the financial burden on those still travelling to work. For example, Transport for London’s NHS reimbursement scheme, lately extended to cover care workers as well as NHS employees, allows these key workers to apply for reimbursements for all coronavirus-related journeys, including travel to and from work. Closer to home, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, announced that NHS and social care staff could travel for free on Metrolink trams from Saturday 11 April 2020.
This was a welcome intervention for Salford’s 2,000-odd strong Nursing cohort – following the government’s emergency Coronavirus Bill, which allowed regulators to relax registration criteria, many of the University’s student nurses have opted in to an extended placement, which means that for 80% of their study hours, they will be deployed to the front lines.
Abbie, Salford’s Health and Society Officer, has been working hard behind the scenes to advocate for all Health and Society students who have chosen to join the Coronavirus relief effort. This work, undertaken in collaboration with The University of Manchester Students’ Union and Bolton Students’ Union, has sought to identify potential shortfalls in the current Metrolink initiative and lobby local government to waive travel costs for other forms of transport. For example, she has brought to the discussion the fact that many of our Nursing students may undertake placements outside Greater Manchester – and therefore, outside the scope of the fee-waiver. Furthermore, she has been lobbying for Andy Burnham’s office to extend the concession to other forms of travel, such as buses.
Since Abbie has taken on this issue, the Government has significantly relaxed lockdown regulations, urging people to return to work, allowing unlimited exercise and making significant changes to grant allocations. This has resulted in funding cuts to nine out of ten Greater Manchester councils, leaving the Mayor’s office in doubt about maintaining existing fee waivers for NHS and care workers in future, let alone extending them to cover other services. This, says Andy Burnham, pointing to the £1.6 billion funding package that has just been extended to TfL, is emblematic of a government approach centred around London and more generally, the South.
Practically speaking, any decision to further fund travel concessions in Greater Manchester must now come from Westminster. So how have Abbie’s objectives changed, and how will she proceed?
She will be actively collaborating with the National Union of Students (NUS), lobbying the Government to continue waiving transport costs for students on placement and former students now working directly for the NHS. Working directly with Andy Burnham’s office, she will be investigating what more can be done for medical and health students in the local area. Abbie strongly believes that the Government should acknowledge that public transport is essential for key workers everywhere – not just London – and make steps to extend the same support to other metropolitan areas.
So far, Abbie has done stellar work for a cause she, as a Health and Society student, believes very strongly in. Thanks to her, the University of Salford Students’ Union will play a major role in pushing forward with these essential conversations.
Abbie’s work is, of course, vital in helping our current Nursing students feel supported and confident that their voices will be heard. Her project helps to supplement the wonderful community that Salford’s student nurses have built for themselves during the Coronavirus pandemic. The Nursing Society has set up a Sharepoint site, accessible to all staff and students and containing documents and guidelines pertaining to Coronavirus, as well as a ‘COVID-19 Peer Support Network’ on Facebook. According to Nathan Harrison, Chair of the Nursing Society, “I wanted to create a peer network to allow students to have this safe space to discuss [their] concerns and seek emotional support. I also wanted it to be a space for people to talk about the amazing things they’re achieving out of practice. I think for somebody to choose to approach the front line against a pandemic is very courageous.” The Nursing Society’s achievements have been shared in the Manchester Evening News and the Nursing Standard.
We are immensely proud of Abbie, as well as our brave and dedicated student nurses, and we’ll continue to share details of the work they’re doing during this dangerous and unprecedented time.
If you are a current Health and/or Medical student at the University of Salford, we want to hear about your experience during this pandemic. To ensure your voice is heard and to help us run an effective campaign, please take a couple of minutes to fill in our survey.