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'She doesn't get paid for that': Dáil told of student nurse whose patient's toe 'came off in his sock'

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has been accused of gaslighting student nurses.

Image: Shutterstock/eldar nurkovic

DURING A DEBATE on paying student nurses Sinn Féin’s Patricia Ryan has told the Dáil a story of a student who was helping a patient to shower when his “toe came off in his sock” while she was on her own and couldn’t leave the man.

“Imagine that. Imagine she doesn’t get paid for that,” she said.

A report compiled by Professor Tom Collins, former chair of TU Dublin has recommended to government that student nurses should receive a pandemic grant of €100 a week during their unpaid placements in hospitals.

The Government could backdate this to September, and continue it for the rest of the academic year.

Nurses’ union the INMO has said previously that this €100 proposal “does not reflect Covid risks they face“. It has also said that the Covid threat they face now during the third wave is more severe than in December, when testimonies for the report were taken.

During their time in college, student nurses are required to work unpaid to get the necessary number of ‘working hours’ needed to become fully qualified.

From fourth year onwards, these nurses receive some payment but a large chunk of their clinical placements are unpaid during the rest of their degree. 

Backlash

Government faced a backlash from Opposition TDs today, who raised serious concerns about the remuneration student nurses are paid, with some choosing between paying for food and paying for public transport, they said.

During the debate on Sinn Féin’s motion to pay student nurses and midwives, Opposition TDs appealed to the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to ensure that student nurses are paid for the work they do. Many pointed out that it is no coincidence that the majority of these workers are young women.

Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson, David Cullinane said he has spoken to hundreds of students, telling the Dáil that they are highly insulted with the €100 per week payment, stating that it equates €3.22 per hour. 

Rise’s Paul Murphy said student nurses deserve to be paid more for their work. He asked the minister how he can justify paying the student nurses so little.

To ensure that the hospitals don’t collapse under the strain, they have had to give up their other part time jobs “in order to protect patients”, he said.

“How on earth do the government expect them to pay their bills and cover their rent, with 100 euros a week. It’s worth contrasting the treatment of the student nurses, with the position of the Secretary General of the Department of Health, which is getting an extra €90,000 a year,” he said.

Solidarity’s Mick Barry called it a “scandal” while Aontú’s Peadar Toíbín called on the public to remember the members of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party for voting down a motion before Christmas to pay student nurses.

Student testimonies

People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett said the government is simply dismissing the testimony of student nurses “when they explained in graphic and sometimes shocking detail” the work they do. He said they have played a pivotal role during the Covid crisis.

Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin appealed to the minister to pay student nurses, pointing out that if Donnelly was still in Opposition, he would have dismissed the speeches he has given explaining away why the government cannot pay them.

“You would have dismissed it out of hand as being tone deaf,” he said, adding that these young workers are putting their lives at risk.

“I would suggest to you that you realise the depth of feeling that there is in hospital settings, healthcare settings and student nurses themselves at this decision. I would ask you to reflect on how embittered, and how in the long term this decision is going to last within somebody’s mindset,” he said, with the Labour TD telling the minister that this decision will be seen as a black spot on the minister’s record.

‘Gaslighting’

Social Democrat’s Holly Cairns accused the minister of effectively “gaslighting” student nurses by “denying them the realities of their own experience”.

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Independent TD Catherine Connolly said student nurses are making a “very basic demand”. She said the message that ‘we are all in this together’ has been trampled on, stating that was brought into focus this week when the government agreed to a salary increase for the new Department of Health Secretary General. 

“What kind of a message is that when we’re all in this together,” she said, adding that they are looking for a recognition for the work they are doing. 

Junior Health Minister Mary Butler told the Dáil that students are paid for their clinical placements in their fourth year. 

She told the House that she regrets that unpaid placements for students in Year 1-3 have been suspended for at least two weeks but this week.

“This was a necessary decision,” she said, adding that it was in response to the particular clinical care demands and the requirement for qualified staff.

Donnelly has said a long-term review of pay for student nurses is also due to commence. 

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