I express my appreciation at being given the opportunity to voice my opinion on what I consider to be a very important topic concerning the nursing profession. Within the next 12 months Irish girls will, for the first time, qualify from university with a degree in nursing — the year will begin in October 1997 or January 1998. Those young girls have been studying for a diploma for the past three years, during which time they received a grant and payment of course fees from the Department of Health. The difficulty will arise when they go to university and the Department will not pay their fees. As far as I am aware, they are the only undergraduates who must pay university course fees. The Department of Health claims this is a matter for the Department of Education, but that Department claims it is a health matter. Irrespective of who should deal with it, the girls are under the impression they will have to pay their fees.
When the nurses went on strike a few weeks ago it was suggested the nursing profession is the most caring in the world. Their younger sisters are now being penalised when trying to secure a degree in nursing. The Department pays regional technical college and university course fees for other young people who take up courses with those institutions, but nurses must pay their own university fees.
Most nurses in general practice are females, but I am sure that is not the reason for this discrimination.However, one could be forgiven for thinking that because they are members of the weaker sex they are being asked to pay their own fees. Will the Minister consider this matter in an understanding manner?