Thursday, 9 November 2023
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Health Services Staff
Thanks very much, Acting Chair, and I thank the Minister of State for coming to answer my question. I know it is not his area of responsibility so he can only give me what he has been given. A number of student nurses have contacted me who are in third year and doing their student placement. There was a big announcement that student nurses would receive €500 each and they would receive travel assistance. There are two problems with the system that has been set up, according to the nurses who have been in touch with me. The first thing is they only get the €500 if they have worked in trauma wards or wards during the pandemic where people were being treated for the virus. If they have worked in average wards, they do not actually qualify for €500 and this is what they have been told. This is slightly different from what was announced initially, that all student nurses would get €500.
The second thing is, in terms of their travel assistance, they must own their own car and show from their car log that they own their own car and drive themselves to and from the hospital or wherever they are based. The thing is that many of them are maybe dependent on friends or family to drive them to and fro. They are only student nurses and do not own their own vehicles so it has become an issue. They, equally, do not qualify for the travel allowance.
I am not sure if the Minister of State is able to answer those questions for me today, but these are issues that have been put to me by student nurses. Many nurses train in University Hospital Limerick, UHL, and it is the students who are in their third year of nursing there who have come to me with these issues. I thank the Minister of State and look forward to his response.
I thank Senator Byrne for raising this important matter. As the Senator has alluded to, I am standing in on behalf of the Minister, and the information I have has been supplied by the Department of Health. Before I go into the details of the script, the two particular points the Senator made are the exact points of detail I will ask the Department to come back to her directly on in the event they are not adequately covered in the script.
A top Government priority is to protect and support the education of all students. Regarding student nurses and midwives, an important consideration for this group is the specific requirement to undertake mandatory clinical placement which comprises 50% of the overall nursing and midwife education programme requirements. Mandatory supernumerary practice placements occur for 45 weeks from year 1 of the programme right through to the first semester of year 4, where it is 50%. These students are not employees and are additional to the workforce in a learning capacity and therefore are not paid. They learn under the supervision of a registered nurse or midwife, and while they learn through practice, they are not accountable for patient care.
Following approval by the Government on 13 December 2022, the Minister, Deputy Donnelly was pleased to announce €9 million in additional supports for student nurses and midwives. The sum of €5.4 million was used to introduce the enhanced travel and subsistence scheme for eligible students while attending their supernumerary clinical practice placements. This scheme is governed by the Department of Health circular 4/2023. This scheme provides a targeted and more equitable approach to support these students, and its main features are that eligible student nurses and midwives in years 1 to 3 of their studies will each receive €500 per year as a targeted measure to contribute towards meeting the extra costs of meals associated with practice placements outside the student’s core placement site; and a new rate of €80 for overnight accommodation is being introduced along with an increased weekly cap of €300 for those eligible supernumerary students who require accommodation away from their normal place of residence while attending practice placements. This weekly cap is three times the cap that was introduced on 1 January 2022 and almost six times the previous caps.
Supernumerary students requiring overnight accommodation will also be able to avail of, on a vouched basis, the reasonable cost of uniform laundry services.These students will continue to be entitled to a refund of the cost of transport for placements on a vouched basis. The HSE has informed the Minister that these payments have commenced in a number of areas. The Department will continue to engage with the HSE to ensure all eligible students receive the allowances due. The Senator can see that the process has commenced but has not yet been finalised. It is ongoing.
For student nurses and midwives in their final year of internship, the Minister has ensured that their salaries are in line with the relevant recommendation in the McHugh report by increasing their rate of pay to 80% of point 1 of the staff nurse-midwives pay scale. This is governed by the Department of Health in circular 1/2023, which was issued on 30 January last. This measure is worth €3.6 million and demonstrates further the Government's commitment to retaining students in our nursing and midwifery degree programmes. Students will also be provided with two additional uniforms at the start of their internships.
There is a well-established funded clinical support infrastructure to ensure that the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland's undergraduate standards and requirements are met. I will complete my address after the Senator responds.
I thank the Minister of State. It is most welcome that the money that student nurses and midwives receive has increased and that these measures are being put in place. Whether it is interpretation by people at the top and that people have taken it up differently, I do not know. However, the case that has been put to me is that not all student nurses qualify for the €500 and not all will be able to avail of the travel and subsistence arrangement. I welcome the fact that the Minister of State will convey my concerns to the Department. I would appreciate it if he could make those points and come back to me directly.
Over the past three years, the number of undergraduate training places for nurses and midwives has increased by 400. That is an increase of approximately 25%. This year, there are more than 250 additional places in higher education institutions across the Republic of Ireland. Also this year, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland and our Department of Health have agreed to - and want to operate and support - an all-island approach to increasing the number of training places for student nurses and midwives.
As previously indicated, the Government has provided a fund of €9 million, €5.4 million of which is for enhanced travel subsistence. The Minister would have liked these payments to have been made long ago. On whether they will be subject to tax, the matter has now been clarified. The Minister is pleased to confirm that payments have commenced in a number of areas, but not in all.
The Senator asked a specific question about whether nurse training will take place in trauma wards. She also asked about the details of the scheme relating to car ownership. I will take her queries directly to the Department because I do not have a note on the specific points she raised.