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Taoiseach accuses opposition of 'playing politics' with 'simplistic motion' about student nurses' pay

Micheál Martin said there should be “no exploitation of any student nurse in any hospital setting”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin in the Dáil today.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin in the Dáil today.
Image: Oireachtas.ie

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said the debate about student nurses has been “very politicised” and accused the opposition of putting forward a “simplistic motion” to share it on social media. 

Martin made the accusation in the Dáil today after the issue was raised by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald TD. 

It comes after the government last week voted down a Solidarity-People Before Profit (PBP) motion that called for the reinstatement of the payment of student nurses and midwives who are in placements during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Raising the issue today, McDonald said “these aren’t normal times” and read out correspondence from student nurses who said they were forced to give up their part-time work due to the fear of Covid-19 contamination. 

“This creates enormous strain when it comes to paying rent, paying fees, transport and possibly supporting a family,” McDonald said. 

So there you have it Taoiseach, real work, real lives. The real struggles of our student nurses and midwives please tell them that they will be paid and paid properly.

Responding to McDonald, Martin said there should be “no exploitation of any student nurse in any hospital setting”. 

He argued, however, that the current system of nursing education has been designed so that the nursing students receive a degree and are not treated like apprentices in a hospital setting. 

“This debate in my view has been very politicised, it’s been very guilty of short-termism and it’s been designed to put one group of politicians into one corner and the other in the other corner via a motion, a simplistic motion, that seeks to resolve public service pay and the critical issue of how best to educate medical students,” he said,

Essentially what you are saying is that we should return to the apprenticeship model, which I don’t think is a good idea. No nurse, not a single student nurse should be exploited.

Across all years of 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, nurses receive some payment but a significant amount of their clinical placements are unpaid during college.

During fourth year, students undertake a 36-week roster of continuous placement and are paid as health service employees.

Martin said that 20 years ago nursing education moved from an apprenticeship model to the degree model and that this needed to be protected.   

“At the heart of this, it seems to me now is, do we want to protect the learning experience of nurses on the degree program or not,” he said

I introduced it myself as Minister for Health and it was important in terms of giving a higher degree of respect in terms of the nursing profession within the overall hierarchy health itself.

“One nurse educator, the head of a particular college, said to me that this is critical from our perspective. Everything we fought for over the past 20 years is now at risk if we go back to thinking it is okay for nurse students to do every type of job in the hospital when they are meant to be learning.”

The Taoiseach said the opposition putting forward the motion as it did last week was a case of “playing politics”.

“I understand what you were at last week, in terms of putting up a motion, put up the dashboard, go on social media and say ‘they don’t want to pay we want to pay’, that’s overly simplistic and you know it,” he told the Sinn Féin leader. 

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- With reporting by Orla Dwyer

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Rónán Duffy

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