THROUGHOUT the coronavirus pandemic, our thoughts have turned to the healthcare heroes who have gone above and beyond their duty - as they always have and always will.

Every day, NHS staff walk fearlessly into our hospitals, facing a virus which threatens their own lives and relatives as much as their patients’. And they do it because there’s something in their DNA that calls on them to care.

Among those fighting to save lives on the frontline stands a new generation of nurses, paramedics and midwives, experiencing their career firsts in the middle of an unprecedented international public health emergency. They are fighting a highly infectious invisible killer with no cure and no treatments.

Each day they are facing situations even the most experienced hospital staff have never seen in their lifetimes.

They are the final year students who signed up out of goodwill.

And yet they are the same nurses paying £9,250 a year tuition fees for a degree course cut short by the Covid-19 crisis. They are the same members of staff asked to work an unpaid placement or waiting to be enrolled in a paid band 4 nursing role.

Until 2016-17, students studying a nursing degree received a bursary worth up to £16,454 a year. The bursary also met student tuition fees.

But in 2015 the Government unexpectedly scrapped the bursary. Doing so would increase the number of people training to be a nurse, according to the then-Chancellor George Osborne.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Since the Government scrapped NHS bursaries and replaced them with tuition fees and loans there has been a 23 per cent reduction in applications for nursing courses in England.

According to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), it is a key reason why hospitals started this pandemic critically short of nurses - and why thousands of students have now been rushed to the frontline before their courses are finished.

The fear of running up huge debts has deterred many good candidates from becoming a nurse. Those that have gone ahead now face starting a new career with a huge financial burden.

Ironically, from the next academic year, starting in September 2020, all nursing students in England will get a £5,000-a-year maintenance grant. In addition, those who plan to work in areas with the greatest need, or in disciplines where there is a shortage, will receive another £3,000.

But that’s cold comfort for the thousands of student nurses currently in our hospitals.

Today, your County Gazette calls on the Government to scrap university tuition fees for academic year 2019/20 for student nurses who have shown their dedication to the NHS by serving in the coronavirus pandemic.

Already, Yeovil MP Marcus Fysh, pictured, has told your County Gazette he has written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock to ‘ask what can be done about current fees and debt’.

“Student nurses are an important part of the national effort to beat the virus and we need to reflect this,” he said.

“It’s great news that nursing bursaries are being introduced in September but I would like to see help offered to those currently on the frontline.”

The Royal College of Nursing has also backed the campaign, branding tuition fees for healthcare students a “mistake”.

The nursing institution says all students should have “fair pay and conditions” as new members of the NHS workforce.

Glenn Turp, regional director for the RCN Yorkshire and Humber, said: “Tuition fees for nursing courses were a mistake. The number of people applying for nursing dropped off a cliff when they were introduced.

They are a barrier to safely staffing hospital and other care settings and should be removed without delay.”

And he said brave students joining the frontline deserve to be recognised: “They have chosen to leave their courses early to join the workforce to help tackle the pandemic - they should be given fair pay and conditions.”

Newsquest approached the Treasury and the Department for Health and Social Care but they declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “We are grateful to all students who choose to support our NHS during this extremely difficult time and will be ensuring all students who do opt in are rewarded fairly for their hard work.”

If you agree it is unfair to ask student nurses to pay tuition fees while caring for coronavirus victims, click here to sign our petition