The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) called for urgent government intervention in a press release yesterday as the increase in COVID cases has put frontline workers under “unprecedented” pressure. Calling for the implementation of protections and pay by the government for nursing and midwifery students and interns to reflect that risk.

INMO, the country’s largest union for nurses and midwives, has revealed that 2,500 healthcare workers are contracting the virus each week and that 7,000 HSE workers are currently absent for COVID reasons. 

INMO President and emergency department nurse, Karen McGowan, said that the system is overloaded and frontline staff cannot cope with the increasing number of hospitalisations. “Decisions at every level are happening too late to prevent infection and overburden. The consequences are increasingly clear – our frontline members are paying the price.”

A proposal was made last week to pay student nurses and midwives €100 a week for the duration of the Coronavirus pandemic. This Pandemic Placement Grant was met with disappointment and frustration as the payment works out at €2.56 an hour for a 39-hour week.

Welfare Officer, Ruairí Power, said that the UCDSU stands in full support of students currently on placement in the healthcare system. 

“At present, many students have had to move out of home while working in high-risk settings in order to avoid infecting vulnerable family members. Part-time work that many students would have ordinarily relied upon to meet their expenses is no longer available. The cost of going on placement and the risks associated have never been higher. Covid-19 has shone a light on what has always been a fundamentally unjust situation.”

“The underpaid and unappreciated work undergone by students is an unacceptable form of labour casualisation that the INMO have rightly taken issue with. Students should not be used to plug staffing deficiencies in our public health system without being given proper compensation and treated with a basic level of respect.”

 Power continued by saying that the Pandemic Placement Grant is “entirely inadequate” and called on Minister Stephen Donnelly and the government to pay students a proper wage.

INMO’s Executive Council wants the government to address five key points, first increasing safety standards: to upgrade PPE levels and to end the policy that allows asymptomatic close contacts to return to work. The union wants to upgrade PPE levels in healthcare settings to FFP2 masks which provide superior filtration efficiency than FFP1 or surgical masks. 

Secondly, INMO has called for all hospitals to be nationalised into the public system, providing additional beds, and staffing to the service. According to the union, the current government plan to use only a third is not enough. Members also ask for a childminding provision to allow parents of schoolchildren to attend work and that healthcare worker vaccination priority be continued, with a latest date set for when all healthcare workers will have received the vaccine.

INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said “This is a national emergency. It should be treated as such. The public health service was not fit for purpose before the pandemic – it is now under a level of pressure not seen before.” He continued “We need all hands on deck in the health service and frontline staff must be protected…Similarly, we cannot ask students to take on more work at the expense of learning, for no or low pay.”

Emma Hanrahan – Assistant News Editor