The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has called for “urgent clarity” on the situation for student nurses and midwives on placement in hospitals, arguing they need clarification on whether they’ll have to repay hours they miss as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trinity has pulled its first and third-year students from unpaid hospital placements – though final year nursing interns are still being required to attend – but many student nurses in other colleges are due to begin unpaid placements in the coming weeks.
In a press statement today, USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick said that “student nurses and midwives are worried about how this is going to impact their education”, adding: “Universities and colleges need to state what their intentions are for student nurses and midwives that cannot complete their placements because of COVID-19.”
Fitzpatrick said USI supports the calls of GPs and other frontline health workers “for a specific line of testing to be introduced for student nurses and other health workers so that they don’t have to be out of work unnecessarily while waiting to be tested”.
Currently, frontline health workers – including student nurses – have to use a public HSE line to get tested for the virus.
“We are also calling for student nurses, and other healthcare workers, to get extra paid sick leave if they contract COVID-19”, Fitzpatrick said.
“At the moment, without instruction on this, supernumerary [unpaid] students have no sick leave and internship students will have to use their general sick leave entitlements which will run out very quickly in a COVID-19 case.”
“A lot of healthcare departments have closed down, students have been asked to leave college accommodation and digs, and some private public transport that many students rely on has been pulled”, she said.
“Student nurses”, Fitzpatrick said “are a vital cog in the healthcare system, and they need reassurance that their needs will be taken care of in a timely manner”.
She said: “These are worrying times for everyone and we feel that by providing reassurance and answers to these issues and questions, colleges, universities and the HSE can take some of the worry away from our members that are currently engaged on the frontlines battling this pandemic.”
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has called for student nurses and midwives to be paid as employees and receive employee protections for the work they do in hospitals over the coming weeks.
TheJournal.ie has reported that the organisation met the Department of Health and the HSE yesterday, and raised “the need for an urgent decision on student nurse and midwife placement”.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation sought to “ensure a consistent approach for all students across Ireland” through a single, national decision on the issue, TheJournal.ie reported.
The organisation also said that if the health service cannot provide proper training during the Covid-19 crisis, “then they need to change the status of students on placement”.
“The purpose of a placement”, it said, “is to train the student, not provide extra resources to the health service”.
“We want them to allow some relaxation of need to repay time not attended on clinical placement, given these extraordinary circumstances”, it said.
Last week, Trinity pulled its first and third-year students from placement for the rest of the year, but final-year students will remain on their internships. Second-year students were not due to participate in placement at this time.