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Nursing Staff

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 25 February 2021

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Questions (278)

Joan Collins

Question:

278. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Health if the pay arrangements put in place for student nurses in 2020 will be implemented (details supplied). [10670/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Student clinical placements across a variety of care settings are a vital part of nursing and midwifery learning in the educational programmes. Clinical placement learning makes up 50% of these programmes. Placements, where students are immersed in the care environments, enables students to develop the practical knowledge, clinical skills and professional behaviours required to qualify and be eligible to join the professional register. Supernumerary clinical student placements ensure learning takes place on the front line and that the experience is gained under the supervision of a registered nurse or midwife. I want to protect their status as students and protect their graduate programme which has delivered so many benefits.

When the pandemic was declared in March 2020 our healthcare system had to re-configure quickly. This resulted in many staff being redeployed, including some staff required for the supervision and support of students in the clinical setting. Following redeployment, the student support infrastructure was impacted significantly and all clinical placements were suspended by the HSE on 10 April 2020. Redeployment, sick leave and COVID 19 related absence also led to a workforce crisis at that time.  One measure used in responding to the workforce demand at the time was that student nurses and midwifes were offered a 3-month contract as Healthcare Assistants (HCAs). This initiative was on a voluntary basis and 1,200 (approx. 30%) took up a contract. As we moved into 2021 the HSE, despite the continuing challenges associated with the pandemic, was in a much stronger position in terms of staffing.  The HSE hired an additional 1,158 Health Care Assistants in 2020 as well as 1,712 Nurses and Midwives to respond to the additional challenges faced on the front line. At the end of the December 2020, the health sector workforce had a total of 126,174 WTE. This is an increase of 6,357 WTE since the end of December 2019.

To further assist student nurses and midwives on clinical placements, I appointed Profes­sor Tom Collins to carry out an independent review of the clinical placement allowance spe­cifically during COVID-19, a more stressful time of which we are all aware. Professor Collins reported back to me on 31 December, 2020 and made several recommendations which I have accepted. One of which was his recommendation to implement a pandemic placement grant, which is the non-taxable €100 per week for each supernumerary placement week during the pandemic. He provided an option for me to backdate this to the start of September. Therefore, the recommendation is that the 12 weeks of placement essentially would be subject to a non-taxable payment of €1,200. As stated I have accepted the recommendations and work is ongoing to implement Professor Collins’s recommendation for  a pandemic placement grant by making the associated payments. We continue the engagements with the representative bodies on this matter and the long term review.

The long-term review of the placements and allowances to be carried out, I believe this is very important. This will go some way to addressing some of the issues that have been raised by Deputies and others around supporting students to be students and assisting with some of the financial barriers that can impact students while they are undertaking their placements particularly when the placements are away from the base hospital. 

That is one of the points that is going to be examined in the long-term review. The work has commenced and I have asked that I receive a report in June. That will give us some time to work with the students themselves, the representative bodies, the educators and all the stake­holders and work to implement any recommendations from the start of the academic year this coming September.

I do not underestimate the difficulties that student nurses and midwives have had over the past year. Without question, it continues to be a difficult time. My Department and I, in conjunction with the HSE, higher education institutes, the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland, our clinical partners and representative organisations, will continue to focus on sup­porting our students, keeping them safe and ensuring they have the best possible education that they can have.

As the Deputy is aware, supernumerary clinical placements for 1-3rd year nursing and midwifery students were temporarily suspended from 18 January to support the HSE request to release senior, qualified staff employed to support student placements who had the necessary experience to help directly with the COVID-19 response.   However, placements with the necessary supports in place, have been gradually resuming and  this week 99%  of the nursing and midwifery students who were due to be on clinical placement were on placement. Intern and 4th year supernumerary placements have continued uninterrupted during this time.

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