Comment & Analysis
Mar 29, 2020

If Hospital Staff Are Heroes, Why Do Many Feel They’re a Government Afterthought?

Student nursing interns face a litany of unanswered questions, even as the government hails healthcare workers.

Léigh as Gaeilge an t-Eagarfhocal (Read Editorial in Irish) »
By The Editorial Board

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, one thing that’s become crystal clear to most people is how much we rely on our healthcare workers.

Recent weeks have seen an explosion of public gratitude towards the country’s doctors and nurses, as they work every day on the frontlines of a health service bracing itself against a tidal wave.

But healthcare workers don’t just need an outpouring of solidarity: they need tangible supports in their hospitals. And if this is a statement of the obvious, it bears repeating when it comes to the situation for many student nurses and doctors.


This week, The University Times reported on the litany of issues that Trinity’s final-year nursing interns are facing.

What’s abundantly clear is that these nurses, a vital cog in the healthcare machine, do not feel supported as they go to work every day.

At a time of crisis, intern nurses know as well as anyone how difficult, and unprecedented, this situation is: they’re working in the middle of it.

But they’re students, working towards a degree. They need to know if their graduation could be in jeopardy if they’re forced to self-isolate – a real fear for many – and so far they have been starved of answers.

Last week, they faced the indignity of hearing that supernumerary student nurses on placement – without the same workload, and with fewer responsibilities – will now earn more than them, after a government announcement made with much fanfare by Minister for Health Simon Harris.

If the government was serious about supporting student nurses, it surely behooved Harris to at least mention interns – a cohort he knows are distinct from those on placement.

Instead, he made national headlines for a move that doesn’t address the issues facing many.

Trinity’s medicine students, meanwhile, have been asked to “volunteer” to work in intensive care units, helping treat those stricken with the virus. Conspicuous by its total absence from the request was any mention of a wage – a bizarre omission, given the specialised nature of the work and the risk involved in it.

We keep hearing that the government thinks healthcare workers are heroes. So why do so many student nurses and doctors feel like an afterthought?