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student pay Student nurses 'should be paid when filling in due to understaffing', Varadkar says


Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

A partial Government climbdown on the issue of paying student nurses has been signaled by the Tanaiste.

Where student nurses are ‘acting up’ as staff nurses it is absolutely right that they should be paid, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil.

“Where a student nurses are acting up, filling in for a staff nurse, because wards are understaffed, I do think they should be paid for that quite frankly,” he said.

“In those circumstances, is absolutely right that student nurses should be paid for that work that they do. And that includes those in first year, second year and third year.

“So this is an issue that the government is engaging on wants to continue to engage on will speak to the INMO and to SIPO’s healthcare division about this.”

New talks will get underway, he said, as Health Minister Stephen Donnell confirmed his Department is investigating “very serious allegations” about the abuse of student nurses.

One nurse, Marie, said in first year she had often worked alone with a ward of 30 patients, said Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty.

In second year she had to wash a deceased patient and lay him out to be viewed by his family, the first case of many.

In third year she had a patient who went into cardiac arrest and she had to pump his chest, but the person passed away. “I drove home in silence that night. I did not tell my mother.”

Mr Doherty said the Opposition would not give up until student nurses were properly rewarded, but Mr Varadkar accused him of prioritising “emotion over facts”.

The Dáil has already heard of a case of a first-year student nurse having to console the mother of a dead baby at her bedside, which the Taoiseach branded a “scandal”.

It has also heard of a nurse named Conor who spoke of having to wash, lift, dress and feed patients who were Covid positive, without instruction or supervision.

Minister Donnelly said: “I am taking that deadly seriously and have instigated a whole review.” He will meet the HSE director of nursing this evening on the issue.

Mr Doherty said the Government had implied that student nurses “are being exploited by other nurses on our hospital wards,” which was not true.

The INMO was crystal clear that it is no use pitting nurses against student nurses, who are doing indispensable work, facing Covid risk, and getting no financial recognition for their efforts.

“It is not nurses exploiting nurses, they are being exploited by the present system,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said he was very aware, as a former doctor and Health Minister, of the contribution being made by student nurses and midwives to the health service.

“Let me set out five facts,” he said. “The motion last week was party politics. It was non-binding and unfunded, and if passed would not have been worth a single euro to a single student nurse. It was designed to make the Government look bad, Opposition look good, and do nothing at all for student nurses.

Public pay is not voted on in the Dáil, ever. It is negotiated with trade unions and negotiations are now underway on the next pay deal. Student nurses are paid for their fourth year.

“In the first wave pandemic, I as Taoiseach, with Simon Harris, took a decision to take on earlier-year students as healthcare assistants, because we thought hospitals might get overwhelmed. Thankfully that surge never happened, but it was still the right decision on a temporary basis.

“Thirdly, we have provided the pandemic unemployment payment to student nurses who worked as healthcare assistants in nursing homes and had to give up those jobs because we asked them not to be in clinical settings. And when you do degree course, it finally is not the norm to be paid for that.”

“A review of allowances is underway. But as is always the case. matters of public pay will be negotiated between the government on the one hand, and unions on the other. That's how it's done.

“It's not based on emotion in the Dáil.”

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