Placement for student nurses resumed on a phased basis from the 8th of February.
On the 16th of January, it was announced that over 2,000 student nurses and midwives were to have their clinical placements postponed by two weeks. On the 28th of January, the placements were further postponed until the 8th of February, with a phased return set to take place. The initial postponements were initiated to free up qualified supervisory staff for the front line, who would have been assisting students otherwise.
During the first wave of the pandemic, students on placement were converted to health care assistants (HCA’s) and were paid €14 an hour for their work. Sources say that the HSE had informed the Department that they did not want mass amounts of unqualified students to be transferred into HCA posts, as they need experienced staff on the wards at this time.
UCDSU released an open letter to Minister Stephen Donnelly on January 20th seeking clarification for students going on clinical placements. The SU questioned how students can require the minimal practice hours set in the EU Directive 2005/36/EC, to avoid being unable to progress in their programmes.
The SU proceeded to ask if 4th-year students on placement will be offered the €14 HCA rate as they were last year. The SU also stated: “We are in complete agreement with the INMO that in light of the increased risk and workload of undertaking placement this time it is entirely reasonable that the rate would be increased to the Healthcare Assistant Grade as it was in March.”
Finally, the SU asked for greater consideration for 1st to 3rd year students to be given a health care assistant role in order for students to meet living expenses. The full letter can be read on the UCDSU website.
Speaking to The University Observer, first-year General Nursing students outlined the lack of clarity by both the Government and UCD regarding placement. After the placements were initially cancelled, there was no contingency plan in place for general nursing students, who have been left doing nothing for the past few weeks.
Placements for first-year general nursing students are now set to happen on the 15th of March and continue until early May, however, students are unsure if this will definitely happen. Students do not have to make up the 170 hours lost since the initial postponement of placements but are left unsure about any other potential lost hours. It is also unclear whether students have to complete placement during the summer in order to progress to Stage 2. However, some students studying children’s and general nursing as well as mental health nursing have been allowed to start their placements.
The University Observer spoke to a representative for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) on the matter. The spokesperson outlined that “information and certainty is a priority for student nurses and midwives at the moment, as disruptions to placements have knock-on effects in their lives. Not only do students have to worry about when their placements will go ahead, but changes to the training structure can mean changes in how people plan their finances and accommodation throughout the year too.” The representative emphasised that “student nurses and midwives have made a huge contribution to the health system during the pandemic, and it’s important that we recognise the stress and strain they’re under, and limit any additional anxiety that might be caused by uncertainty around their training and education.”