- With additional reporting from Evelyn Ring
Student nurses and midwives completing unpaid placements during the Covid-19 pandemic should be taken on as paid employees during the crisis, the head of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has urged.
As the HSE prepares to see a significant increase in the number of Covid-19 patients requiring critical care in the weeks ahead, hundreds of nursing and midwifery students are also due to begin mandatory, unpaid work placements in hospitals around the country.
This comes as more than 60,000 people have responded to the HSE recruitment drive launched last week in a bid to hire thousands of doctors, nurses, and admin staff.
Meanwhile, first-, second- and third-year student nurses on clinical placements are not considered paid employees by the HSE.
However, fourth-year students are paid and counted as part of the workforce.
All students beginning placements should be paid and treated as employees given the circumstances of the coronavirus crisis.
That is according to Phil Ní Sheaghdha, the general secretary of the INMO.
“We have repeatedly asked the HSE to take on students into paid employment during the crisis,” Ms Ní Sheaghdha said.
“This could combine, in some cases, with their placements or training.
“We have a huge bank of motivated, skilled students who can help during this crisis.
"It’s common sense to use them to help support the health service. In any work they do, they must be paid and protected as employees, and not asked to work at any level beyond their current training.”
The Department of Health said options for first-year to third-year students are currently being examined: “If their student status cannot be maintained, there will be the option for them to work as healthcare assistants or other relevant roles in the health service. They would be paid for such.”
Hospitals dealing with exceptional difficulties related to Covid-19 may decide to advise students not to attend clinical placements if this is considered necessary, a spokeswoman for the HSE confirmed.
Meanwhile, the INMO called on the HSE to expedite Covid-19 test results for nurses and other frontline health workers.
"We’re likely to be facing staff shortages,” Ms Ní Sheaghdha said.
“We can’t have a situation where much-needed nurses are just waiting at home for test results when they could be providing care.”