Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD has said that the situation with regards to student nurses is ‘unacceptable’ and that the former Health Minister’s announcement was ‘misleading’.

Deputy Tóibín said: “In March the then Minister for Health, Simon Harris, promised that student nurses would be paid for their efforts in fighting Covid_19 on the frontlines. The Dáil was then suspended for two weeks. Student nurses brought to my attention the fact that they were still not getting paid in the weeks after the Minister’s announcement. I called for the immediate re-opening of the Written Questions facility so that those of us in opposition could raise these issues with the Minister. Within hours of me raising the matter, the HSE wrote to student nurses telling them they would be paid, and the colleges sent a similar email”.

Deputy Tóibín continued: “Today, however, we in Aontú have been speaking to student nurses across the country and they’ve confirmed that they were never paid. Instead what happened was student nurses were offered employment under the HSE as healthcare assistants. This is very different to Simon Harris’ announcement that the government was ‘going to pay student nurses’. In order to avail of the scheme students had to cease being students on placement and begin working separately for the HSE, thus the hours they worked did not count towards their degree – they could not be included as placement hours”.

“Some students didn’t recognise this fact initially and began working as healthcare assistants only to discover that now, as they face their new college term, they are way behind in their placement hours and have to work long hours for free now to catch up. Of those students who realised that the employment offered would not count in their placement hours many have stayed working, for free, for hours upon hours each week, without much of a lunch break and with huge responsibilities under intense pressure and stress. While student nurses have been working for free throughout the pandemic Simon Harris and now the new government have kept up an illusion to the public that student nurses are being paid. It is scandalous that they are not getting paid. Nobody should be made work for free, especially in such appalling conditions”.

“I am calling on the Minister for Health to now ensure that firstly, students who took up the HSE’s offer and worked as healthcare assistants during the pandemic have the hours that they’ve worked included in their placement hours’ total. Secondly the new Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, must immediately ensure that student nurses fighting the pandemic on the frontlines are paid for the work they are doing”, concluded Deputy Tóibín.