"That Dáil Éireann:
— the Government has commissioned two reviews of the pay of student nurses and midwives;
— the first review on pay for placements during the Covid-19 pandemic was completed and its main recommendations were published on Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) before the report itself was published or issued to members of the Oireachtas; and
— the second review has yet to be concluded;
— there are more than 4,500 student nurses and midwives who must complete clinical placements which require them to work 12-hour shifts for no pay;
— student nurses and midwives regularly perform real work on wards, which is not recognised by the Government or formally recognised by the Health Service Executive;
— this work is not formally part of their degree but is necessitated by the chronic understaffing across the health service, and that students plug the gaps left by a failure to invest in safe staffing levels;
— this practice has led to student nurses and midwives, as well as other students, such as radiography students, performing pandemic-related work which places them in regular contact with Covid-19 positive patients and requires them to work on Covid-19 wards; and
— the €100 per week payment offered by the Government is inadequate and does not reflect the current reality in hospitals; and
calls on the Government to:
— immediately publish the Collins review of student nurse and midwife pay during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has been partially leaked to the media;
— immediately reinstate the March agreement as provided for in the review for students performing pandemic-related work to ensure that they are appropriately paid for their work on the frontline for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic;
— urgently advance the second review to be conducted on the allowances of student nurses and midwives to ensure that new allowances are in place by the end of the
Covid-19 pandemic; and
— expand the second review to ascertain the extent to which students performing work in hospitals beyond the requirements of their degree occurs, and to ensure that where this occurs it is appropriately compensated."
This motion is about fair, reasonable and sustainable rates of pay and allowances for student nurses and midwives. I first raised this issue with the Minister for Health on the floor of the Dáil in July 2020. I raised it again in September, October and November. As the Minister is aware, other Members also raised the issue and brought forward a Private Members' motion, which was voted down and against by his party and colleagues in government.
I want to say from the outset, so that there is no confusion, that my party is not seeking to change the current model of education and training for student nurses and midwives. It is a model that serves us well. In my view, we turn out some of the best and most hard-working student nurses and midwives, who are the envy of the world. The problem is that they do not feel respected or valued. I have engaged with hundreds of student nurses and midwives over the last number of months. I have listened, at first hand, to what they have told me. To be clear for the Minister, they understand that there is an element of training, education and supervision to their placements. However, as the Minister is aware, they also understand and know that when they step onto a hospital ward, there is a strong element of work. They are doing real work and they want that to be respected and valued. They want the Minister to put fair and reasonable solutions on the table. What the Minister has put on the table so far has been completely unacceptable. An allowance of €100 per week for first, second and third years has been quite rightly been regarded as a slap in the face and far from adequate. It is not fair and reasonable. That approach should be contrasted with the approach the Minister took in respect of the most senior civil servant in his Department. He sat down with two of his ministerial colleagues and hatched a plan to give that individual a pay rise of €81,000 upon the post becoming permanent. I am not referring to a salary of €81,000 but to a pay rise of €81,000, bringing the individual's salary close to €300,000 a year. How can the Minister say that is fair and reasonable, and shows that he values the work that those on the front line, including student nurses and midwives, do in our hospitals?
How is that fair? Student nurses and midwives are looking at this, as are others, and they are saying that what the Minister did over the past number of months is prioritise that individual over the needs of the thousands of student nurses and midwives who have done such huge and Trojan work in our hospitals since this pandemic struck.
I want to outline to the Minister some of the experiences that have been recounted to me by those student nurses and midwives. One of them said:
I was diagnosed with Covid-19 during my placement. I had to put my entire family at risk because of the work that I do. For all of that, I got nothing. An allowance of €50 per week and a travel allowance of 25 cent a mile paid two months after placement finished or, if you lived close by, nothing at all.
Another told me:
It is ten months since I got Covid while working for free and I am still not better. I will either emigrate or return to college because it is not worth working as a nurse in this country.
I want the Minister to listen to those words because they show why this motion is so important. If we do not value the work that student nurses and midwives do, they will leave. We are putting them through what is, as I said earlier, one of the best training and education programmes in the world, yet they are leaving in droves because, they are telling me, they do not feel valued and respected by the Minister and the Government.
This is an issue that should not divide us. It is an issue on which this House should be united that we do what is right, that we right a wrong here and that we make sure we pay student nurses and midwives reasonable and fair rates of pay and allowances. That is all they are looking for. I am calling on the Minister to support this motion. I am calling on him to do what is right. I am calling on him to send a powerful message to student nurses and midwives that we want them to stay here working in the Irish healthcare system, not emigrating, and that we value the work they are doing on a daily basis. I ask the Minister to listen to and support this motion.