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Student nurse: 'I never understood why nurses left Ireland, but now I plan to join them'

Chloe Slevin shares her disgust at the recent decision by Government to vote down a motion to pay student nurses and midwives.

Chloe Slevin

MY NAME IS Chloe, and I am a second-year student nurse. I am usually very vocal on this topic however I have not spoken much about the recent Dáil vote regarding the payment of student nurses and midwives.

Not out of unwillingness, but instead, sheer defeat. Watching the government parties vote against a bill to pay student nurses and midwives was one of the most demoralising experiences, given that months ago we were ‘all in this together’ and everyone was out busy clapping for us while we battled this killer disease.

Thousands of students all over Ireland are rightly devastated that our government has failed us yet again. I used to wonder why so many nurses left Ireland, it never made sense to me that they would leave when they are so desperately needed here, but now I plan to join them.

I could not love nursing more, and I dream of the day I qualify. Although, a life of nursing or midwifery is not easy. We must sustain at least four years of college, being treated appallingly, only to come out and graduate as underappreciated, underpaid healthcare professionals.

‘Clap for Carers’

Many of us have worked throughout Ireland’s first wave of Covid-19 when it struck our acute hospitals and various other healthcare facilities. We helped out in our already struggling healthcare system and yes, we were given a round of applause then, but now we are being hushed.

Many argue that our placement is purely educational and that many courses partake in unpaid placements, however, nursing is incomparable. I have never agreed with unpaid placement, especially after seeing the worth of my own contribution to understaffed wards.

Covid-19 has only led us to the breaking point. Regular college placements may require time in an office or a lab, however, ours includes filling staffing gaps and having people’s lives in our hands.

While our peers in other courses get the desired “college experience”, we must work unpaid full-time placements, on top of our part-time jobs, in an extremely academic environment.

We are not just students, we are fully integrated into our placements and despite being a student, every patient I have ever met has called me “nurse”. I am sure you can imagine how strange that was to hear at 18, and it is still weird to me now. To my patients, I am more than just a student. But to our government, I am nothing more than that.

You can’t live on allowances

Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party love to defend their poor decisions in relation to nurses with talk of our allowances, but I doubt they truly know anything about them.

It varies with each college and course. Many nursing students get €15 a week, but midwives often get nothing. When Health Minister Stephen Donnelly mentions our accommodation allowance, I am not sure he is aware that €50.79 a week will just about get you a cardboard box nowadays.

IMG_0073 Source: Chloe Slevin

To believe accommodation in this country can be in any way achieved on that budget is delusional. Some students can only avail of this allowance in certain cases, with many students in being told they simply cannot get it as their hospital group will not supply the allowance this year.

They are instead being asked to “volunteer”. A lack of representation and support from all of our colleges is truly disheartening, especially considering the fees we pay to barely be on campus. If they attempted to afford accommodation, food, and travel for €50.79 a week, whilst working over 36 hours unpaid, balancing their second job and academic demands, then maybe I would accept defeat. Until then, we will not be silenced.

In recent talks with one Fine Gael TD, he told me “I certainly agree that you should be paid for your work”. He then proceeded to vote for nursing students to remain unpaid.

I brought this up with him and he told me that he “didn’t support the Solidarity-People Before Profit (PBP) campaign and their motion”, which was, to simply pay student nurses and midwives.

This Fine Gael TD, and I am sure many others, are voting to simply disagree with an opposing party. I do not believe they care about us; they care about themselves and nothing more. Their disgraceful vote is leaving students all over Ireland starving themselves, being kicked out of their homes, and losing their jobs, and their only argument for this is they don’t like People Before Profit? It is shameful.

Do we not matter?

On 4 November, regarding the payment of healthcare students, Stephen Donnelly said, “the comparison with trades is not applicable” and I just want to know why I am deemed less than my peers, my boyfriend, my father, and anybody else in a trade?

Minister Donnelly also defends our unpaid position by waving the word education over our heads. We fully understand our supernumerary status if it were to protect our education like he claims, however, we are becoming part of the workforce, it is no longer solely an education.

It is no longer just an education when we are filling staffing gaps, taking up roles unsupervised, or staying back late to help out. It is no longer just an education when our wonderful, qualified nurses and midwives are too overwhelmed to have a student hanging out of them when staffing levels are dangerous and we must put our patients first, not our learning outcomes.

It is no longer just an education when you find students breaking down in changing rooms when students are being forced to skip meals to afford transport or rent when their wellbeing is compromised. We are not a free resource and I refuse to be treated as such.

There are not only current issues, but also long-term implications brought on by this exploitation from our current government. In 2018, student nurses and midwives were surveyed and 71% of these students said they will leave the country once they qualify.

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IMG_9497 Source: Chloe Slevin

Imagine that figure after 2020, after all of this disrespect, after we realise our worth. Ireland already struggles with retention rates of nurses and midwives, and it is solely our government’s fault.

Change is needed now, not only for the sake of our current students but future students and for the sake of our future healthcare system. To support us now, will encourage and enlighten the prospect of nursing and midwifery as a career because it is definitely not desirable as it stands.

If we are not protected now, we simply cannot be expected to stay. I have never met a nursing or midwifery intern with hopes to practice in Ireland. They will be welcomed everywhere else with open arms before the Irish government respects them. They will leave our country and they deserve to because now, it is not a matter of “will you leave” it is “where will you go?”. ”

Chloe Slevin is a student nurse at University College Dublin. On Monday, Chloe will be auctioning a painting and giving the proceeds to children’s ambulance service Bumbleance. The auction takes place at Herman & Wilkinson Fine Arts.

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Chloe Slevin

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