Student nurses who had placements shelved ‘rehired via agencies’

Nursing union claims ‘this is an incredibly expensive way to provide much-needed staff’

Student nurses are returning to work in hospitals as healthcare assistants employed through agencies, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has claimed.

The Department of Health this week suspended for a further week at least the clinical placements of student nurses in hospitals due to the current surge of Covid-19 infections.

The INMO has been seeking the Government to reintroduce a scheme put in place on a temporary basis by then minister for health Simon Harris last spring. This enabled the Health Service Executive hire more than 1,300 student nurses as healthcare assistants at a cost to the State of some €41 million.

However the Government has resisted such calls. A report brought by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to Cabinet this month maintained that offering student nurses contracts as paid healthcare assistants in hospitals would have more disadvantages than advantages.


However the union said on Friday it knew that many students are working as healthcare assistants already, but that they had been hired via agencies. “This is an incredibly expensive way to provide much-needed staff,” said the union.

The department in mid-January suspended for a fortnight the clinical placements of nursing students in the first three years of their course due to the spike in Covid cases. It said at the time the HSE wanted to redeploy staff involved in training student nurses to frontline duties. On Thursday it expended this suspension for at least a further week.

‘No guidance’

INMO director of industrial relations Tony Fitzpatrick said: "Students have been left with more uncertainty about their education, thanks to indecision and delay. The health service is been denied a valuable resource . . . Their placements have been suspended for another week, with no guidance or clarity on what will follow. Many have reported that they have been left high and dry, without any restructured coursework to fill in the gaps left by suspended placements.

“Meanwhile fourth-year interns continue to work in intense, high-risk workplaces for tiny wages.”

Student nurses in their fourth-year internship in hospitals are paid the equivalent of an annual salary worth €21,749. Students in the psychiatric nursing specialty receive the equivalent of €22,229 .

Mr Fitzpatrick added:“Earlier in the pandemic, the health service recognised the contribution that students could make and brought them in as paid healthcare assistants . . . the situation is much worse now, yet the department refuses to act.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent