News Analysis: The price of placement

 
 

Trainee Nursing and Midwifery students perform the same activities as their professional counterparts, so why aren’t they treated equally, asks Katie Hughes

UCD Students’ Union has recently involved itself in a campaign to stop the gradual decrease in payments of final-year Nursing and Midwifery students when on placement.

This measure was recently announced as a part of a cost-cutting scheme by the Department of Health and Children and was met with strong opposition by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association (INMO).

Final-year Nursing and Midwifery students are currently being paid 80 per cent of the wage of their full-trained counterparts, which amounts to €200 per week, for their 36 weeks of placement. While some would argue this to be a waste of resources, it must be realised that with a hectic final year, this money is needed by students to survive.

However, while doing a degree, is it really appropriate for students to be paid while on work placement? Surely the placement is a part of their learning? While they are carrying out the same roles as the trained nurses and midwives, these students have yet to complete their instruction and are not yet in the same fully qualified position.

This is in no way meant to discredit the work of nurses or midwives on placement, who work twelve-hour shifts day and night. Yet it must be asked why a student nurse should get paid for placement and final-year scientist who spends an equal twelve hours in the lab not receive the same treatment?

These nurses and midwives are dealing with people on an every-minute-of-every-day basis during placement, and running to meet whatever demands occur. They don’t have the comfort of a break when they want one and must be meticulously wary of their actions for fear of liability. In addition, they are expected to work hard to score highly on the final leg of their degree.

The charge of responsibility is definitely a factor, being as accountable for a slip as a fully trained nurse is an uncomfortable burden to bear, but perhaps earning 80 per cent of the wage of a fully qualified nurse is surely a luxury that could no longer be sustained.

It is unfortunate that hospitals where students go to do placement are not private like Price-Waterhouse Coopers and Canada Life where students studying Actuarial Studies have the opportunity to go on their placement. It is equally unfortunate that such severe cuts are being made in the nursing and midwifery sector which is just as demanding a course as others that go on paid, albeit not government funded, placement.

With the current economic climate, it is understandable that cuts must be made, though in this case the decrease is extremely severe. By 2015, students will no longer be paid at all for final-year placement. With no time for a job outside of placement, and hospitals at times hours away requiring extensive travel, it is ridiculous to expect these students to be able to survive their last year of college purely on personal funding.

Both Nursing and Midwifery students come under heavy pressure and stress throughout the course of their degree. Because of having to go on placement from year one, they have little time for a social life, let alone enough time to carry on a part-time job in addition to their already strenuous workload.  Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is why are these students not paid from their first placement onwards?

The answer to this, some might argue, is that every two student nurses that come on placement replace one fully qualified nurse. Perhaps, it being inevitable that cuts be made, students could get paid 50 per cent of the wage each thereby balancing the missing nurse and eliminating the 60 per cent increase. However, even this 30 per cent decrease may have a detrimental effect on students.

Final-year placement is the longest out of any placement that students undertake in their degree, requiring them to work twelve-hour shifts as well as weekends and night duty being a necessity. During this time, the trainee nurses and midwives are required to complete the same tasks and carry out the same responsibilities as a trained professional. Surely this obligation warrants a payment of some sort. If their budget is completely cut and there is no reimbursement for their demanding work, are we not in a way condoning what INMO refers to as “slave labour?”

Hopefully INMO and the UCD Students’ Union and other affected universities will be able to work together to prevent such an extreme measure taking place. If not, we will be sacrificing long-term stability and service of our health sector just for the sake of short-term cuts.

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