As the Deputy will be aware, a key Government priority is to protect and support the education of all students, including student nurses and midwives, especially during these times as we continuing to deal with the challenges posed COVID-19.
In this context, I had arranged for a short-term review of student nurse and midwife allowances to be undertaken. This was conducted by Professor Tom Collins at the end of 2020. He was tasked with examining any additional challenges that the Pandemic may have created for student nurses and midwives on supernumerary clinical placement and final-year internship placement. I accepted all the recommendations that Professor Collins made. This included the payment of a Pandemic Placement Grant (PPG) of €100 per week for each week of the supernumerary clinical placements from January 2021.
I should point out that, as supernumerary students, they are not included in the staffing complement, they learn under the supervision of a registered nurse/midwife and are not accountable for patient care. Over a four year period, student nurses and midwives have 81 weeks of clinical placement, 45 weeks of which are at supernumerary placement status and 36 weeks are on internship placement. As students, rather than employees, the primary focus of their placement is on “learning” rather than “doing”- even if the learning is mostly through doing. The objective is that through their supernumerary and intern status, students on placement can focus on the development of the skills, knowledge and attitudes required to develop competence to practise as a registered nurse or midwife. Clinical placement ensures this learning takes place on the frontline in a supervised and protected environment.
It is important to emphasise, therefore, that supernumerary students on clinical placement are not employees of the healthcare setting of their placement. Indeed, it is their status as higher education students which is fundamental to the character of the graduate training programme and any move towards the redefinition of the students as employees would undermine the intrinsic nature of this programme.
In addition to the short-term review, I also directed that a second longer-term independent review of student nurse and midwife clinical placement allowances take place. This review was conducted by Mr Sean McHugh and included an examination of the existing allowances payable to student nurses and midwives on clinical placement.
Following this review I announced, on 4 November 2021, that the Government had approved my proposal to provide significant additional supports, worth €12m, for student nurses and midwives while attending their clinical placements. These temporary measures will assist these students while work is being undertaken by my Department to progress the recommendations arising from the longer-term review.
Among these temporary measures, I extended the Pandemic Placement Grant of €100 per week to all eligible nursing and midwifery students on supernumerary placement, backdating it to September 2021.
Furthermore, while my Department is developing detailed proposals to give effect to the recommendation relating to intern pay, the PPG shall now be extended to 4th year nursing and midwifery internship students at the rate of 50%, commencing in January 2022. This will have the effect of increasing supports by €1,800 for this cohort.
The Government is also providing additional support to supernumerary students needing overnight accommodation away from their normal place of residence to attend some of their clinical placements. This includes increasing the cap on the vouched accommodation allowance, as outlined in Department of Health Circular 09/2004. The cap on the vouched accommodation allowance is being almost doubled from €50.79 per week to €100 per week of placement, and will be backdated to September 2021.
Mr. McHugh's report sets out recommendations to enhance the current Travel and Subsistence scheme for students in attending their supernumerary clinical placements. I will consider these further so that a permanent enhanced scheme can be developed that will provide a targeted and more equitable approach to supporting students in undertaking supernumerary clinical placements, to be in place from September 2022.
I am grateful to Professor Collins and Mr. McHugh for their Reports, both of which have helped my consideration of how best to support our student nurses and midwives as they continue their undergraduate education.