There have been renewed calls for Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and the HSE to end the practice of unpaid work by student nurses in hospitals across Ireland.

The Labour Party’s spokeswoman for higher education, Senator Annie Hoey, called on the Government to act, reiterating that student nurses on the frontline “can’t live on applause and platitudes”.

Student nurses, who have been instrumental in keeping the system afloat during this pandemic, are not being paid and continue to place themselves at risk, propping up staffing deficiencies in the public health service.  While most UCD students are advised to stay off-campus and study online, nursing and midwifery students have to attend dangerous and stressful workplaces to fulfil their learning objectives.

The UCD Students’ Union held a panel discussion on ‘Supporting Students on Placement’ yesterday evening that was well attended by student nurses, midwives, and radiographers. The Union highlighted “a clear sense of frustration” amongst the student body who attended at the lack of financial supports available to students on placement. The Union are appealing to the Government to stop abdicating their responsibility and to support students.

Welfare Officer Ruairi Power, said that the Government had “continually exploited placement to provide the HSE with cheap labour”. He added that it was “absolutely inexcusable that they are getting no financial recognition to meet the cost of living while they are risking Covid infection”.

Last month, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) noted a scheme run by the HSE to pay students on Healthcare Assistant (HCA) salaries was used at the start of the pandemic in March, but it is no longer operating.

Maedhbh Flynn, a final year Nursing Science student at UCD and Stage 4 Nursing and Midwifery Class Representative, highlighted the unreasonable burden students face. “People don’t realise we pay full fees (€3,000 per year) as well as working for free”. She added that other nurses are paying for accommodation on top of this. Other students have illustrated the toll this was taking on their academic studies as they are expected to provide 1st class care for 35 hours a week while also keeping up with assignment deadlines.

UCD Students’ Union will be writing to Minister Donnelly ahead of the Christmas period and will continue to collaborate with other Students’ Unions and advocacy groups around online campaigning.

Jack O’Gorman- Reporter