Explainer: What’s happening with the student nurses?

The lack of payment for student nurses has proven controversial in recent weeks as they work to combat COVID-19.

As the government attempts to justify their decision in the Dáil, many people outside Leinster House are questioning the rationale, while others are point blank outraged.
The Student Social offers an explanation, of the situation so far.


A motion put before the Dáil at the start of December followed campaigning from various bodies, including the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and a number of opposition parties, called on the government to reinstate pay for student nurses and midwives.

Moving the motion, Solidarity-People Before Profit (S-PBP) TD Mick Barry said that the students involved are making: “Big financial sacrifices just to come into the hospitals and work for nothing.”
He also highlighted that: “Student nurse and midwives must pay fees, which are substantial and which range from €3,000 to €7,500 per year.”

Speaking in support, Gino Kenny TD (S-PBP) told the Dáil that:
“There are matters of legacy here for society and the Government. The lesson to be learned about student nurses is, that health should be put before wealth.”

Speaking on behalf of Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, Anne Rabbitte, Minister of State for Disability, said that the Minister could not accept the motion and instead asked for an amendment to be put forward, which done away with any mention of pay for those on placement.

In the early months of 2020, students: “Were offered temporary healthcare assistant contracts as an initiative to provide much-needed support for the HSE’s response to Covid-19.”
Rabbitte (Minister of State for Disability) told the Dáil, but it is understood that this practice has since ceased.

In an attempt to explain the position taken by the government, Rabbitte said that there is: “Around 280 patients in hospital with Covid-19, compared with around 900 in April and May.”
She also stated that: “The absenteeism rate for nursing and midwifery is currently around 5.6% which, is much lower than the 9% rate in the first phase, which led to a workforce crisis.”

The amended motion, removing any reference to paid placement, passed 79 to 72.

In a statement from October, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, General Secretary of INMO, claimed that students: “Are getting a raw deal.”

Ní Sheaghdha noted that: “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.”

“Extra work, serious risk, and other sources of income being cut; student nurses and midwives are getting a raw deal. It is beyond time to respect their contribution and pay them. The message is simple: stop exploiting student nurses and midwives.”

Stephen Murphy, Pre-Nursing Coordinator in Ballyfermot College of Further Education, said that: “Young student nurses have felt betrayed and cheated” and that the: “Lack of respect for the work that they have been doing, under severe pressure in dangerous environments.”

One clinical course coordinator (who asked to remain anonymous) echoed Murphy’s sentiment, saying that refusing to pay the students: “Is cheating them.”

“It’s crazy what we’re asking of students. They’re expected to be students, care staff and nurses all rolled into one. Nursing placements are always tough, but COVID has meant they’re under incredible pressure.”

“They’re 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.”

Local students feel strongly on the issue, with one describing it as: “Disheartening and demeaning to any student, especially given the current circumstances,” while another said that: “Those who voted against have to be held accountable and remembered.”

Recent developments

More recently, INMO announced that student nurses and midwives will engage cautiously with a government-proposed, independently-verified review of their conditions.

Details of two reviews were finalised earlier this week by the Minister for Health.
The first review is to focus on the issue with regards to COVID-19 and is expected to be returned, to the Minister by the end of December for implementation in January.

The second review is to take into consideration issues that are likely to continue even after the pandemic.
It will be held in January and February before being implemented in time for the next academic year, starting September 2021.

Professor Tom Collins is to chair the first of the two reviews.

How have student nurses reacted?
INMO claims that the feedback from its student members was in favour of: “Guarded engagement,” with the reviews, reserving their final judgement until the outcome is determined.

Phil Ní Sheaghdha, INMO General Secretary, said that student nurses: “Have rightly given, a cautious response to the Minister’s proposed reviews.”

Ní Sheaghdha also cited: “Overwhelming public support for the students.”

“Over 70,000 people have pledged their support to students via a petition. It is clear that the public understand that valuing our student nurses and midwives means fair payments and conditions, when working in the frontline during a pandemic.

“The rapid timeline for implementation is very welcome but, ultimately the reviews’ actual proposals will determine our student members’ response.”

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