Clarity must be provided from higher education institutions and the Health Service Executive on important issues that have arisen for student nurses and midwives as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).

President, Lorna Fitzpatrick says student nurses and midwives and their representatives around the country have raised several concerns with the USI and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) about how the crisis will impact their ability to continue to do their work, their working conditions and their future education.

The USI Executive has been working closely with local student representatives and student nurses and midwives and is today calling for clarity on serious issues that have arisen.

Lorna said: “Student nurses and midwives are worried about how this is going to impact their education. Universities and colleges need to state what their intentions are for student nurses and midwives that cannot complete their placements because of COVID-19. There are a range of reasons that this may be the case; a lot of healthcare departments have closed down, students have been asked to leave college accommodation and digs, and some private public transport that many students rely on has been pulled.

“Along with the INMO, we are calling for all student nurses and midwives on placement to  be supported financially during this pandemic as many are unable to continue with part-time work because they are at risk of carrying and spreading the virus while supporting the health system during this pandemic.”

Student nurses are also concerned about being out of work for long periods while waiting to be tested for the virus, which is putting extra strain on the health services.

Lorna said: “Like other frontline health workers, student nurses have to use the general public HSE line to get tested for COVID-19. We reiterate GPs and frontline health workers’ calls for a specific line of testing to be introduced for student nurses and other health workers so that they don’t have to be out of work unnecessarily while waiting to be tested.

“We are also calling for student nurses, and other healthcare workers, to get extra paid sick leave if they contract COVID-19. At the moment, without instruction on this, supernumerary students have no sick leave and internship students will have to use their general sick leave entitlements which will run out very quickly in a COVID-19 case. Student nurses are a vital cog in the healthcare system, and they need reassurance that their needs will be taken care of in a timely manner.”

Lorna explained that clarity on these issues will support student nurses to continue to carry out their roles to the highest standards.

She said: “These are worrying times for everyone and we feel that by providing reassurance and answers to these issues and questions, colleges, universities and the HSE can take some of the worry away from our members that are currently engaged on the frontlines battling this pandemic. These issues are urgent and need to be addressed immediately.”