More than 2,000 student nurses and midwives are to be removed from their training placements in public hospitals on a temporary basis by the Department of Health due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on staffing levels.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on Saturday authorised the ending of the current placement arrangements for student nurses across the country in a bid to free up senior and experienced nurses, who currently oversee the training, and to allow them to return to front-line duties.
As the Irish Times reports, it is understood the HSE asked the Department to temporarily suspend student nurse and midwifery placements for those in the first to third years of their course. The new move will not affect those in their final year, who work as interns in hospitals.
Some local hospitals are understood to have curtailed student nurse placements already, but Mr Donnelly’s move will see all placements for students in the first three years end at a national level on a temporary basis.
The HSE told the Department of Health this move was required as it wanted to free up experienced senior nurses, who currently supervise and facilitate these student placements, and allow them to concentrate on patient care.
It is understood the HSE contacted the chief nursing officer at the Department of Health who, in turn, made a recommendation to the Minister. Mr Donnelly authorised the move on Saturday.
The student nurse and midwife placements will be ended initially for two weeks and will then be reviewed.
The students affected are expected to continue to receive their existing educational allowance for accommodation of €50.79 per week of placement, as well as SUSI grants and any pandemic unemployment payments to which some may have been entitled.
Last spring about 1,350 students in the first three years of their course took up roles as healthcare assistants in the health service for a period under an initiative introduced by the then government.
On this occasion there will be no national arrangement for student nurses to be employed as healthcare assistants, although it will open to hospitals at local level to do so if they consider it necessary.
It is understood that the HSE told the Department of Health a national scheme to employ student nurses as healthcare assistants was not needed at this time.
Higher education institutes were briefed on the decision to end the student nurse placement on a temporary basis by the Department of Health on Saturday afternoon.
The Department of Health has contended that no healthcare students in disciplines such as medicine, physiotherapy or radiography, for example, are paid before they qualify, except for fourth-year student nurses who receive the equivalent of an annual salary of €21,749 . Those training in psychiatric nursing receive the equivalent of €22,229 for their intern period in fourth year.
Before Christmas, the Government announced a review of allowances which recommended earlier this month a new pandemic placement grant worth €100 per week when the students are on hospital placements.
Speaking about the decision, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said: “I would like to thank all student nurses and midwives for their ongoing commitment to the future of our health services.
“This is an uncertain time for them and I know many will be disappointed by this news. I would like to reassure them that all options will be considered in re-starting these placements as soon as it is possible.”
Rachel Kenna, chief nursing officer in the Department of Health, said: “I recognise the enormous commitment students have made in participating in the clinical learning environments at a very challenging time.
“The education of student nurses and midwives is a priority for all of us, but this must be done safely, with the appropriate supports and supervision structures in place.”
The Department of Health said in making this decision, the chief nursing officer is engaging with the HSE, the Higher Education Institutes and the regulator, to ensure that the impact of this decision is minimized for all nursing and midwifery students.