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Letter to Minister Stephen Donnelly - Pay Student Healthcare Workers and Interns

Mr. Stephen Donnelly TD,

Minister for Health,

Department for Health,

50-58 Miesian Plaza,

Baggot Street Lower,

Dublin 2.

3rd December, 2020

Dear Minister Donnelly,

We hope this letter finds you well. We are contacting you regarding the issue of compensation for students working on placement in healthcare settings. Student nurses, midwives, radiographers and physiotherapists have gone above and beyond to respond to the Covid-19 crisis by providing vital support to the HSE and taking care of our most vulnerable. UCD Students’ Union notes with great disappointment the Government’s failure to support the motion put forward by Solidarity-People Before Profit TD’s yesterday regarding pay for student nurses and midwives.

Students on placements in hospitals across Ireland are facing additional COVID risks and are effectively being asked to work as staff for no pay. The infection risk of working in contact with Covid-19 patients has prohibited students from gaining part time employment (either as care assistants or otherwise), a basic requirement for them to meet the cost of living and to fund their studies. These students are paying thousands of euros in registration fees for the privilege of working in high risk healthcare settings for no compensation and inadequate stipends.

Last week, UCD Students’ Union hosted an online panel discussion with over 100 of these students in attendance. The same frustrations appeared time and time again. These students are struggling with their finances, feeling demoralised and underappreciated. Many of them have been away from family members for months, and many more have actually been infected with Covid. Their sense of duty and committment to step up and provide essential services the Irish public throughout the pandemic is commendable, but should not be exploited.

It has never been acceptable for the State to abdicate its responsibility towards providing financial recognition for student workers on placement. These students have been plugging holes left by staffing inadequacies in our public health system for years, with no compensation for their enormous impact. Covid-19 has merely shone a light on what has always been a fundamentally unjust situation.

By committing to trialling a basic income scheme, Minister Catherine Martin has demonstrated a clear support for those in the arts and cultural sectors impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. A similar scale of imagination and commitment is required from your department to support students on placement, by immediately moving to provide students with the required financial supports to meet their expenses.

UCD Students’ Union fully support the following proposals from the INMO and ask you to implement them:

1. Pay all final-year interns the same rate as healthcare assistants

2. Increase and expand the clinical placement allowance for all other students

3. Provide full health and safety protection to all students, including payment if they have to go on COVID-related leave

We implore you as Minister to end the process of the Irish State taking these students for granted. It is essential that these workers are treated with the respect they deserve and provided with the support they require. At a time where they Government has stepped in to bail out the Irish Greyhound industry, it is not a big ask for the state to intervene and provide student nurses, midwives, radiographers and physiotherapists with necessary compensation.

UCD Students’ Union would greatly appreciate any opportunity to meet with you to discuss this matter.

Le gach dea-ghuí,

UCD Students’ Union