Coronavirus: Government urged to show plans to deploy 4,500 student nurses

Union calls for agreement on pay and risks for student nurses combating Covid-19 surge

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha: ‘Will we have sufficient numbers, it’s very hard to know.’ Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha: ‘Will we have sufficient numbers, it’s very hard to know.’ Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

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The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has urged the Government to quickly produce detailed proposals to deploy 4,500 student nurses to combat the anticipated Covid-19 surge.

Like Defence Forces cadets and trainee gardaí, student nurses want to play a role, said INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha, but agreements about pay and the risks they will face is needed.

On Tuesday, Minister for Health Simon Harris suggested that student nurses could apply to work in the Covid-19 relief effort, even if they could not work as fully fledged nurses.

Calling for the “appropriate use” of the student nurses, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said said it was not clear if there are enough intensive care nurses for the likely number of patients.

“Will we have sufficient numbers, it’s very hard to know. That’s why it’s very important that the public adhere to the principle of not putting pressure on hospitals,” she declared.

Refitted

Preparations are under way to move non-Covid-19 patients from public to private hospitals to make space; elective surgeries are being cancelled, while surgical theatres are being refitted to serve as ICU cubicles.

Twenty-four thousand people responded on Wednesday to the Be on Call for Ireland campaign, which has sought help from healthcare professionals who are not already working in the public health service.

Dr Gabrielle Colleran, vice-president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association and a consultant paediatric radiologist, said Ireland is already facing capacity issues and consultant shortages before the surge comes.

Preparations are under way to handle incoming patients with Covid-19 alongside the normal flow of patients, while outpatient work is being scaled back to create capacity and reduce the risk of the disease spreading.

The Chinese example of creating “clean” and “fever” hospitals has merit, she said, though hospitals will come under extreme pressure in the weeks and months ahead, exacerbated by the spread of the virus among medics.

Meanwhile, the State is in talks with hotels to house key workers near their jobs, but this will not be restricted to healthcare workers. Some hotels, meanwhile, could house self-isolating, but non-critical Covid-19 patients.