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Student nurses 'frustrated' at 'last-minute decision' to redeploy teaching nurses to help with Covid-19 surge

Clinical placements for most student nurses and midwives – due to start tomorrow – have been suspended.

Image: Shutterstock/David Herraez Calzada

Updated Jan 17th 2021, 1:17 PM

A TRADE UNION has said that some student nurses have been left frustrated and “furious” at a last-minute decision to redeploy student and nurse midwives who are in teaching or supervising roles to help the healthcare sector battle the Covid-19 surge.

Because of this redeployment, unpaid placements for students in Year 1-3 have been suspended for at least two weeks from tomorrow, but placements for Year 4 student nurses and midwives will continue.

Trade union Siptu said that its members were “furious” and frustrated at the decision, which it says was taken without “proper” consultation. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has said it was a “last-minute decision”, and that they would meet to discuss their reaction to the announcement.

In a statement released last night, the Department of Health said that staffing across all areas of the healthcare sector were strained, and that “all options to maximise the workforce are being actioned”.

Yesterday there were 119 additional hospitalisations in a 24-hour period, increasing the total number of people with Covid-19 in hospital to 1,854, of whom 191 are in ICU.

The 14-day incidence rate of Covid-19 in Ireland is now at 1,530.2 per 100,000 people.

Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory Dr Cillian De Gascun said that it is “inevitable” that the variant from the UK will become the dominant variant in Ireland.

Student placements

The Department of Health said that the HSE had requested that experienced and qualified staff who work in training for students in Years 1-3 are instead redeployed.

Because of this redeployment, all clinical placements due to start tomorrow for student nurses and midwives in Years 1-3 will be suspended for at least two weeks.

The affected students will not have to repay this placement time later in order to qualify, and the INMO said that they will not be offered temporary healthcare assistant contracts, as they were earlier in the pandemic.

Students and midwives in Year 4, the final year before qualification, are counted for rostering purposes as 0.5 of a full-time equivalent – these placements will continue.

The INMO has sought clarity on this measure for fourth-year student nurses, and requested that they are paid has healthcare assistants, as they were in March, to “better reflect the workload and risk those final-year interns face”.

The Department of Health and INMO have been in discussions about paying student nurses for unpaid clinical placements that take place during the Covid-19 pandemic. The INMO said that an offer of €100 a week doesn’t reflect the risks they face

SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said that they have been “inundated” with calls from their members who are “furious” and frustrated.

“They expressed their frustration over this sudden change in policy and the potential impact it will have on the provision of essential health care.
“Members are furious over the stunning lack of proper consultation and say this decision will only deepen the crisis in the health service for students and health care staff working on the frontline.”

Statements

The Department of Health said: “The temporary suspension of these student placements will free up clinical placement co-ordinators, practice co-ordinators, as well as nurses and midwives working in other educational and policy development roles so they can support the HSE at this challenging time.”

“This is an evolving situation and is under constant review in the context of the current Covid-19 demand trajectory.”

INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said: “This is last-minute decision and further clarity is needed. Students have been put in incredibly risky situations with no pay and weakened protections.

“Those interns who are being asked to continue working need to be valued properly. Earlier in the pandemic, their pay was increased to take account of the risks and workload they faced. The Minister should do the right thing and reinstate that policy.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said: “I would like to thank all student nurses and midwives for their ongoing commitment to the future of our health services.

“This is an uncertain time for them and I know many will be disappointed by this news. I would like to reassure them that all options will be considered in re-starting these placements as soon as it is possible.”

Rachel Kenna, Chief Nursing Officer in the Department of Health, said: “I recognise the enormous commitment students have made in participating in the clinical learning environments at a very challenging time.

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“The education of student nurses and midwives is a priority for all of us, but this must be done safely, with the appropriate supports and supervision structures in place.”

Kenna is in touch with the HSE, the Higher Education Institutes and the regulator to ensure that the impact of this decision is minimized for all nursing and midwifery students.

The Department of Health said in its statement last night that the HSE’s Office of the Nursing & Midwifery Services Director, Senior Nurses and Midwives from clinical services, the Chief Nursing Office in the Department of Health, and the Nursing & Midwifery Board of Ireland support this position.

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