Student nurses protest poor pay and placement conditions

‘You’re constantly wrecked, the days you have off you spend sleeping,’ says one

Student nurses were being left “sleep deprived” from having to work part-time jobs alongside their placements in hospitals, in order to afford accommodation and the cost of college.

More than 100 student nurses and midwives attended a protest outside Leinster House on Tuesday, calling for increased pay for those on student placements.

Tiffany O’Reardon (20) from Co Tipperary, a second year general nursing student in Trinity College Dublin who was at the protest, also works part-time in a restaurant.

“I am sick of going to placement and going straight to work afterwards, constantly, every day, and being so tired and so sleep deprived,” she said.

Student nurses were “constantly tired” from juggling the demands of their nursing placements and part-time jobs.

“So I’d be up at 6.30am for placement… so I’d be in there from 7.30am to 3.30pm, and straight from there to work every day, until 7-8pm,” she said. “You’re constantly wrecked, the days you have off you spend sleeping,” she told The Irish Times.

Student nurses in their fourth-year internship are to receive an increase in payments of about 12.5 per cent, under new proposals from Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

Ciarán Harkin (22), a fourth year nursing student from Dublin, said the proposed pay increases were “a great start,” and likely a result of pressure from trade unions.

The trauma of completing placements in hospitals and other healthcare settings during the Covid-19 pandemic had been “quite difficult,” he said.

Denise O’Driscoll, a third year student nurse from west Cork, said she had to work part-time as a healthcare assistant to fund her studies.

“We just feel like we’re not being appreciated enough, we’re doing everything and more, especially during the pandemic, there’s understaffing, there’s the risk of infection,” she said.

The added financial stress on top of that was “impossible to deal with,” she said.

Student nurses were used as a “safety net” to make up gaps due to understaffing, which ended up “hindering” how much they could learn, she said.

Phil Ní Sheaghdha, general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), said the union had yet to see the full details of new proposed pay increases.

“You can’t have 3,000 healthcare workers absent and student nurses coming out onto wards in training, without fully understanding that they are in the business of work, they are working,” she said.

“It is a very difficult environment to learn in, they have dealt with a lot of issues that I think fully qualified nurses for their whole career outside of a pandemic would not have seen,” she said.

John McCamley, Siptu organiser for the nursing and midwifery sector, said students should not be left "out of pocket" from their time on placements.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said at present student nurses and midwives felt “completely disrespected” by the Government.

“I know the initial response from the unions in respect of what has been leaked has been pretty optimistic and positive, but I want to see the proposal in its totality,” she said.