Student Nurses (Pay) Bill 2021
First Stage: 15 Feb 2021
Oireachtas Link: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/bills/bill/2021/16/?highlight%5B0%5D=student&highlight%5B1%5D=nurses&highlight%5B2%5D=pay&highlight%5B3%5D=bill&highlight%5B4%5D=2021
Bill entitled an Act to make provision in relation to the pay of student nurses.
Second Stage: 19/02/2021
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, to the House. I thank the Minister for coming in to personally take the Bill. I commend my colleague, Senator Annie Hoey, on her great and passionate commitment to bringing the Bill before us and to ensuring the work of student nurses is recognised in this tangible way. This very simple and straightforward Bill seeks to ensure adequate payment and remuneration for work being done by student nurses. As other colleagues across the House have said, all of us must acknowledge and recognise the immense work and sacrifice from our front-line healthcare workers and from student nurses, in particular, who have done such Trojan work throughout this pandemic and over the past months. They have been disadvantaged in a way we do not see any other cohort being disadvantaged. On the one hand they are students in training and on the other hand they are being asked to do very hard and dangerous work. I also commend the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation on providing us with such a clear briefing on this. The INMO has pointed out to us the level of disadvantage faced by student nurses, and that despite broad public and political support for their case, which is evidenced today in this House, student nurses' and midwives' work still goes unpaid from first year to third year, with lower levels of pay for fourth-year interns since January 2021 than in March 2020. The INMO points out that first-year to third-year students also lack the protection of a contract of employment, so they are disadvantaged in a number of ways.
I must briefly express to the Minister the words of nurses themselves who have made known to me their own experience and perspectives on this debate. They say that the argument for not paying first-year to third-year student nurses is that placement is a learning experience to engage in observation and to be taught by a preceptor. Their experience is that because there is not enough staff they are doing the work of healthcare assistants full time without sufficient teaching because the "preceptors are far too busy with their own work to teach us". They say they end up doing the work of a healthcare assistant, and they often tend to take on this work for their entire shift with little tutoring and no pay. This is very bad for morale. I am told that it is common practice to pull students from a ward to another ward away from their preceptor and away from any reasonable teaching opportunity. A rule is in place against pulling a student nurse to another ward without his or her preceptor in hospitals, but given the staffing crisis it has simply not been practical to enforce this. Student nurses regularly spend entire shifts carrying out the sort of monitoring work, as others have described so eloquently, where they must observe a delirious or confused patient or someone who is at severe risk, with a whole day of placement missed on each occasion for the student nurse.
They say that friends who are training with the National Health Service are not used as bodies as they are, to use their own words. Clearly this has an immense effect on the health and finances of student nurses, many of whom need to take on other work to sustain themselves and many of whom have to pay rent because they are so afraid of transmitting the virus to a vulnerable family member that they cannot live at home even where this would otherwise be practical. In addition, they have to keep on top of college work and study. I know of nurses who are struggling with sleep and are worrying about patients, their own health and the risk they pose to their families and friends. As others have eloquently put it, we need to move on this. We need to recognise the work that student nurses are doing. I urge colleagues to support this Bill and I hope the Government will do so as well. I will now hand over to my colleague, Senator Wall.