Dáil told of student nurse who had to dress, lay out babies who died in hospital

Taoiseach describes incident as exploitation which was ‘unacceptable’

Taoiseach Micheál Martin faced Opposition anger over the Government agreeing to a pay increase for judges but failing to pay student nurses and midwives. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Taoiseach Micheál Martin faced Opposition anger over the Government agreeing to a pay increase for judges but failing to pay student nurses and midwives. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has described as “an abuse of student nurses” an incident where a trainee midwife had to dress and lay out babies who had died, before they were shown to their parents.

The student also comforted women who had been told their baby had died while they were alone in hospital without a partner because of Covid-19 restrictions.

“No undergraduate student should ever be put in that position – never,” Mr Martin told the Dáil.

“We shouldn’t allow lazy practice or wrong practices by those who are meant to supervise and those who are meant to be in charge in our hospitals, if that is the case,” he said.

“In my view it calls into question the very essence of what the nursing degree programme was about,” he said.

He also reiterated that the results of a review on pay and allowances is expected by the end of the month and “we will be paying higher allowances after those reviews. Of that I am certain.”

Mr Martin was speaking as he faced Opposition anger over the Government agreeing to a pay increase for judges but failing to pay student nurses and midwives.

First-, second- and third-year nurses are not paid while fourth-year students are paid for 36 weeks of their final year.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Government voted last week against paying student nurses and midwives and then the Taoiseach “justified this decision by saying that they don’t get paid because they don’t do real work.

“We’re standing here today talking about student nurses working without pay on the same day that you will increase pay for super junior ministers and judges.”

Rise TD Paul Murphy quoted the student nurse who told him, “I’ve dressed and laid out babies who have passed away to be shown to their parents for the first time.

“I’ve cried with women who have been told that their baby has died while they are alone in our hospitals with the current restrictions.

“I’ve taken a case load of 12 women and babies recently to cover for staff who are out sick, without having time to use the bathrooms and only half an hour break.”

Mr Murphy said it “rubbed salt in their wounds” to hear of the 2 per cent pay increase for judges, worth about €4,000 to a Supreme Court judge.

“That’s quite a substantial Christmas present for them and a lump of coal for the student nurses,” he said.

But the Taoiseach told TDs that their anger should be about incidents of exploitation of student nurses.

He said, “That is not acceptable in any shape or form, particularly the case that Deputy Murphy spoke about I presume in the maternity wards. That should not happen.”

He said complaints should be made to the HSE about these cases and they should be pursued.

But he added that nursing directors are “resolutely denying” that that is happening in hospitals. “So there’s an issue here.”

He said almost 20 years ago there was a fundamental shift in nursing education from an apprenticeship model to a degree model.

Mr Martin said: “At the heart of this is the question of whether we now want to protect the learning experience of nurses under the degree programme or allow ourselves to drift back to yesteryear, to 20-odd years ago and preceding decades, or to the apprenticeship model, which was not ideal at all for student nurses and which led to repeated calls for modernisation.”