Student nurse Ciarán Freeman who shares a house in Galway with five other people says they ran out of home heating oil more than a month ago, but there is no question of them ordering a refill.
“We are very fond of jumpers and hot water bottles now,” he said. “We put on extra layers. I am fortunate that I can do that without suffering detrimental consequences to my health but nursing students are like everyone else, and some have chronic lung diseases or other health issues so not being able to put the heat on would be a problem.”
The chairman of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation’s student section says the “archaic” allowance system means some student nurses get €50 a week as payment – and many get “absolutely nothing”.
Already people from low-income backgrounds and parents who cannot afford childcare are being excluded from pursuing a career in nursing, and as the cost of living soars, this will worsen, the 26 year old says.
Speaking in Sligo where he was attending the INMO’s annual conference, Mr Freeman said most student nurses were resigned to the fact they will have to emigrate when they qualify because housing and other costs are so high.
“There is a lot of talk about an increase in the number of undergraduate nursing and midwifery places and I am sure Australia is delighted because we are training more nurses for them,” he said.
The third-year nursing student at NUI Galway said as part of the course, students do 13-hour shifts three times a week, and given that students get “minimal or no allowances”, this was putting a huge burden on those with young children who have to pay for childcare.
“We should be encouraging these people to come into nursing,” Mr Freeman said. “We are so desperately short of nurses in Ireland. People with kids aren’t likely to pack up and emigrate. These are the nurses that you can retain in Ireland but the cost of childcare is a barrier.”
Cost of living
Mr Freeman said that student nurses who pay the “most expensive college fees in the EU” were finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. “The cost of living is a spiral which affects every aspect of your life be it your housing, be it education, the food that you eat, or sometimes how often you can afford to see your family.
“I went from December to April without seeing my family at all,” said the Dubliner who said he could not afford to take time off from his part-time job as a vaccinator.
“I am barely surviving,” he said, and admitted that he was luckier than other students forced to live in totally unsuitable accommodation. He said that students who see newly qualified nurses in Dublin spending more than 50 per cent of their income on housing are saying “stuff this” and are already considering emigration.
“The cost of living is so high in the cities like Dublin and Cork and Limerick you cannot really afford to stay. If you do stay you are struggling to make ends meet. You have no reasonable prospect of decent housing.”
The Dubliner said he does not want to emigrate. “For all its flaws I really do love Ireland. I have a naive passion for improving the HSE. But I suppose your finances make the decision for you at the end of the day. So I think I might have to.”
Barrier to education
The INMO student leader said he was concerned that so many people who wanted to do nursing, at a time when there is such a shortage in the system, were precluded for financial reasons.
“It is a massive barrier to education. I am not saying those who are doing nursing are rich but some can live at home or have parents who are in a position to help them.
“It is absolutely the case that some people who would love to do nursing are prohibited for financial reasons and this is only going to get worse as cost of living rises.”
Having failed to meet socially for their first two years in college because of Covid restrictions, he says even now people cannot meet up as they can’t afford to “despite the student stereotype”.
He said anytime nurses asked for something like an increased rate for fourth years who do a 36-week placement on wards, there was always “fight back” at a political level from Ministers.
“That is sending a message to students. It is making them cynical and a cynical student is a cynical newly qualified nurse.”