TCDSU to call on Minister for Health for better treatment of students on clinical placements

The union said it is “incredibly disappointed” by the moves taken by the Department of Health in recent days

Trinity College Dublin’s Students’ Union (TCDSU) have announced that they are to write to Minister for Health Stephen Donnolly, calling for further resources and supports to be made available for students on clinical placements.

The union also said they are “continually working” with Trinity’s Dean of Health Sciences and the Counselling service, and they are “in the process of ensuring” there is better support available for these students. 

The union have said that they are “incredibly disappointed” by the moves taken by the Department of Health over recent days.

On Saturday evening, government announced that student nurses and midwives from first to third year were to be pulled from clinical placement to “free-up” nurses and redistribute them to the front-line, in a bid to stop the surge of Covid-19.

TCDSU expressed this evening that they are disappointed by the Department of Health’s “sudden decision” to remove students from placement  “without providing clarity on the possible consequences and outcomes that these students are now facing”.

The statement continued: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, student nurses and midwives have remained an afterthought by our government and have been excluded from conversations that directly impact their education and their future.”

“Students need to be consulted and included in these vital discussions and cannot continue to be kept in the dark by decision-making bodies. This has to change.”

Placements are to end for a two-week period, and the situation regarding clinical placements is to be reassessed by the Department of Health at that time.

TCDSU pointed in their statement that students on placement pay over €3,000 a year to work for no wage in hospitals across the country. 

“They have now been placed in a position, against their will, where many are concerned.”

TCDSU claimed that these students will not “reach their learning outcomes”, or registration requirements, due to this decision taken by government. 

There have been recent debates over student nurse pay in the Dáil. Last December government TDs voted down an opposition motion to pay students working on the frontline. All opposition and independent TDs voted in favour.

Student nurses were told earlier this month that they were to avail of a grant of just €100 a week from government.

“From the very beginning, students on placement have been at the frontline of this pandemic,” TCDSU have stated. “Pulling students from placement at this late stage, without raising awareness of any contingency plans is unacceptable.” 

Now, an already overstretched healthcare system is facing the losses of over 2,000 nursing and midwifery students on placement at this crucial time. Anyone who believes these students on placement do not pull their weight as a vital member of the healthcare team, is terribly mistaken.”

Fourth year nursing and midwifery students who had not yet started their internships – those in pediatric and general nursing – are to continue their placement in hospitals throughout this period, and will receive the allowance of €100 a week. 

For students on internships – those in Mental Health, Intellectual Disability, and General Nursing courses – the union is calling on the government to reinstate a higher rate of pay that was given to final year interns during the height of the pandemic last year.

In their statement, TCDSU continued that these fourth year students provide a “crucial service” and “deserve the same fair wage that was offered to their colleagues last year”.

During the height of the first wave of the pandemic, former Minister for Health Simon Harris announced that student nurses would be paid “throughout the duration of the pandemic”. At the time, he stated that the country needed “all hands on deck” during the coronavirus crisis and praised student nurses’ “brilliant work they are doing in this difficult time”.

“Continually, TCDSU, the Union of Students Ireland and the INMO have been flagging issues faced by students on placement this past year,” the statement added. “Students were pulled from placement ‘as there will be no educational and support infrastructure for them while in the clinical learning environment’. This has been true since last March.”

TCDSU continued to emphasize that over the duration of the pandemic, many students have had to “sacrifice their learning outcomes to provide crucial support on understaffed and overwhelmed wards across the country”. The union is calling for “clear contingency measures” to be put in place so these students can meet their learning objectives. 

“The lack of transparency around this is actively stifling the education of thousands of students.”

Back in 2018, 95% of nurses and midwives in Ireland voted in favour of an INMO strike to flag the chronic and unsafe understaffing, according to the union.

The union stated that this call for help and support “fell on deaf ears” and they are “now yet again, paying for the consequences of the inaction of our government”.

“The chronically understaffed healthcare system is often propped up by those students on placement,” the statement continued.

Medicine students are now being asked to volunteer for the opportunity to participate in proning teams in a university hospital, the union has explained. 

The union added that the HSE is “blatantly exploiting” these students, “to gain hands-on experience, without any form of remuneration”.

“These students are risking their lives on the front lines and for what? It is unacceptable for a Health Service to be relying on the good will and voluntary time of students while those very students continue to be neglected.”

This article was updated at 23:40 on January 19.  An earlier version of this article said that fourth year nursing and midwifery students are continuing their placements. Some of those students are on placements, but most have now started their internship.

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the Editor-in-Chief of the 69th volume Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.