The dedication, skill and commitment of all healthcare professionals has never been more apparent than in the last nine months. Nurses and midwives are the ones who are by our side when we most need help, and through their efforts, have made an exceptional contribution to our national response to the Covid-19 pandemic. And throughout this time, we must recognise the extra work of student nurses during the pandemic which has helped our health service significantly – increasing capacity when we needed it the most.
In the first wave of Covid-19, clinical placements for all students were suspended by the previous government and a temporary scheme was set up to offer paid positions as healthcare assistants to student nurses. This was at a time when our health service was under extraordinary pressure with 900 patients with Covid in our hospitals. Fortunately as our numbers declined over the summer, the demand for increased capacity decreased and the temporary scheme was finished in August.
The INMO and students have raised issues of loss of income during Covid-19 due to fewer opportunities for part time work while doing their clinical placements, particularly in nursing homes. Following meetings between the INMO and the Department of Health, the Minister for Health confirmed that student nurses who could no longer work in their usual part-time positions due to Covid and can show previous income during the relevant period will receive PUP backdated to September for the duration of their placements. Furthermore, in addition to the normal supports, healthcare care costs incurred by student nurses and midwives in relation to Covid during their placements will be covered.
But more needs to be done. A review of student allowances is underway and will be completed shortly. The results from this review, once negotiated with their unions, will take effect from September 2021.
However, fundamentally this is a question of public pay policy, and matters such as this cannot be decided week by week or by an opposition motion. I will continue to advocate for fair and proper conditions for our student nurses and am engaging with my government colleagues on whether other proposals are underway and the possibility of waiving the nursing registration fees.