Student nurses feel 'let down' by the Government

Student nurses feel 'let down' by the Government

Chloe Slevin, a student nurse, says nursing students have been badly let down by the Government.

Student nurses have said they felt "abandoned" by the Government after their placements were cancelled due to the rising rate of Covid-19.

Students also question why the scheme from last March, where the HSE offered student nurses from first to third year health care assistant (HCA) contracts, has not been reinstated.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has said individual students are already working as HCAs, but were hired through private agencies. 

"This is an incredibly expensive way to provide much-needed staff," said Tony Fitzpatrick, INMO director of Industrial Relations.

There are also fears that students will struggle to make up their placement, or will miss out on paid work during the summer, leaving them in a precarious financial position.

Chloe Slevin, a second-year children's and general nursing student studying in Dublin, started her placement this week.

She believes HCA contracts should be reinstated.

"Our hospitals are shouting out for staff, with hundreds out sick. The staff are overworking themselves," she said.

"We helped out with the first wave, as if we aren't already working in these hospitals as HCAs with an agency or otherwise."

Ms Slevin worked on a Covid ward last summer under a HCA contract from the HSE.

"I spent my 2020 summer working on a Covid-19 ward in an acute hospital, with six weeks of placement under my belt.

"I was terrified walking in... but I was absolutely blessed... the support from the staff was indescribable. They knew I was a scared first-year student, 19 years old and spending the apparent 'best years of my life' sweating away in PPE.

I spent these few months suffocating in masks and gowns. I saw friends out socialising while I held hands with patients in some of their last moments."

She said it was tough, but she was grateful she could take up a HCA contract to help out.

She added that while nursing students can receive a travel or accommodation allowance, this is calculated from the distance between the college and hospital, and doesn't take into account students who are already commuting from far away.

"Our allowances are only provided after we complete our placement, and we can be waiting months."

She said the situation student nurses are in is unsustainable, and will lead to people dropping out or see qualified nurses emigrating for better conditions.

Ms Slevin added it was not the hospitals or colleges' fault. The Department of Health should give students more clarity about their placements.

Ciaran, a general nursing student, said the reality is there are staff shortages.

"The Government is arguing there aren't substantial staffing pressures to warrant the reintroduction of the HCA scheme ... but the figures show that almost 2,000 healthcare staff caught Covid in the workplace during two weeks in January."

He said students can no longer work as HCAs in different sites due to the risk of cross-infection, meaning they will struggle to earn a living.

"I am due to start placement in a month, but I don't know if that will be cancelled. I will have to make up that time in the summer.

"Other students work throughout the summer as HCAs, to pay their fees. If they have to make up for cancelled placements in summer, what will happen? Susi stops in May so these students aren't protected. It's a barrier to education."

Ciaran also explained that students can potentially be paying for accommodation on the double if their placement is not close to their college campus.

The Department of Health was contacted for comment. 

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