The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has warned the government that the “exploitation” of student nurses has been intensified by the pandemic. “Our students are being taken for granted,” INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said. “They are facing huge workloads and risking COVID infection. And while they are doing indispensable work, they are getting no financial recognition for their efforts.”
“They do not have the protections provided to employees. While most third-level students are advised to stay off campus and study online, nursing and midwifery students have to attend very dangerous workplaces to fulfil their learning objectives.”
Before their final year internship, most student nurses and midwives receive no payment or an allowance of €50.79 per week. Student healthcare workers experience a loss of income while working for the HSE, the INMO has explained in the past. In order to work, many must lose paid part-time work.
A clinical placement coordinator for students, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Students are being supervised by a dwindling number of staff who are all under massive pressure too. All of it combines to undercut their learning experience. So many workplaces would be lost without students. We’re relying on them to not only learn, but to put in massive work. Not paying them is cheating them, in my view.”
In March, a HSE scheme was set up in order to pay student healthcare workers for their contribution during the pandemic. This scheme is no longer operating. The INMO met with officials from the Department of Health to discuss the issue, but the organisation said no progress was made at this event.
The HSE scheme announced in early March was welcomed warmly by the INMO and healthcare students alike but in late September, TDs began to question the government and current Health Minister Stephen Donnelly about the realities of the programme. “In order to avail of the scheme students had to cease being students on placement and begin working separately for the HSE,” Aontú leader Peadar Toibín explained, “thus the hours they worked did not count towards their degree – they could not be included as placement hours.”
Opposition parties have called for the reassessment or renewal of the scheme, and the compensation of students for their work on the frontline. Action aside from interactions with trade union groups has not been taken, nor has the issue been publicly addressed by the current Health Minister.
On September 8th, UCC Students’ Union publicised a letter sent to the Minister for Health at the time, Simon Harris, which documented the Union’s “dissatisfaction with the perilous conditions faced by student nurses and healthcare workers.” Signed by UCCSU President Naoise Crowley and Welfare Officer Jamie Fraser, the letter asked the Minister to implement a series of provisions to correct “the unreasonable burden” on students working for the HSE without pay.
The letter recommended the following: the remuneration of students who must forego part-time jobs to work during the pandemic, the assurance of six-weeks accreditation for clinical work carried out during the pandemic, the extension of SUSI to include placement periods outside the academic calendar, the reception of relevant travel and support expenses to students placed more than 40km and the implementation of a fair and sustainable model of pay for student healthcare workers.
UCCSU did not receive a response from the Minister or from the Department of Health.
Days after the release of the INMO statement which called for the government to “stop exploiting student nurses and midwives”, a spokesperson on behalf of the Department of Health told The Irish Times that the department expects to complete a revision of Student Nurse Placement Supports “in the coming days.” Such was said on Friday 16th October.