Student nurses and midwives from around the country protested outside the Dáil yesterday calling for improved pay and allowances during work placements.
A review into their allowances, carried out by independent mediator Sean McHugh, has been with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly since August but has not yet been published.
Shortly before the protest took place, it emerged a 12.5% pay increase is on the cards for fourth year nurses, while the weekly pandemic placement payment of €100 could be extended.
Emma Murray, who has been placed at Beaumont Hospital from Dublin City University (DCU), said her experience has been more stressful than expected.
She said: “There was a nurse who went off sick when I was in second year, I had to take over her role. You are putting the patients at risk, but you are not going to say 'no' when people are sick and need help.” She called for fourth-year students to be paid equally to qualified nurses.
Nursing students from Galway Mayo Institute of Technology could not travel to Dublin due to placement commitments but were represented by student union vice-president Emily McGrory.
“They’re not being rewarded for being on the frontline,” she said. “We’d like to see the ninister signing off on the review, and sticking to his word. I’d say to the minister 'mean what you say'.” University College Cork students were likewise represented by their students' union.
Communications officer Maeve Richardson said: “Student nurses were the backbone of the health services during the pandemic, the least we can do is give them a fair wage for the work they do”.
Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) industrial relations officer for Mid-Leinster Bernie Stenson said senior nurses normally closely mentor students, but Covid left hospitals so short-staffed this was not always possible.
Another DCU student Jessica Savage said she caught Covid on placement. From Waterford, she was unable to travel home between placements and had to find accommodation in Dublin.
“We want to be paid and get a bit of support,” she said. “There were some days when there were no nurses on.” Hannah Hayden, training as an intellectual disability nurse, said students are often banned from working elsewhere due to Covid fears and this common practice is causing financial hardship.
INMO general secretary Phil Ui Sheaghdha called for publication of the review.
She said: “The minister for health and his officials must directly engage with student nurses and midwives and their representatives. As case numbers begin to rise yet again and hospital admissions increase, our students need clarity.” The Psychiatric Nurses Association also criticised the “continued delay in publishing the McHugh Report.” A spokesman said the protest was to “highlight the unfair treatment of student nurses”.
Sinn Féin spokesman on health David Cullinane supported the students’ calls, saying “It is important the review is published,” while People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said these students played “a pivotal role” in tackling Covid.
He said: “there has been lip-service from the Government [to pay increases] but no action, it is outrageous.”