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26th Mar 2020

“Step up for your nurses” There’s a GoFundMe to help support student nurses who have lost their jobs and their accommodation as they work to fight the virus

Leslie Ann Horgan

“You don’t go into a job thinking that the job could be the death of you.”

No one sector is more deserving of our gratitude and support right now than our healthcare workers, many of whom are putting their own lives at risk daily to help the country fight the Coronavirus. Among those on the frontlines are our student nurses who are working in hospitals across the country.

Despite putting in the same long hours and at the same high risk as their colleagues however, student nurses are still officially considered to be on college placement and, as such, are not being paid.

Over the last few days, many of them have shared shocking stories on social media of being left in dire financial straits due to losing the part-time jobs that support them, and of losing their accommodation due to not being able to pay their rent or because of the risk of them spreading Covid-19.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the government was “looking into” student nurses being paid, albeit only for clinical work that was not considered to be in a learning capacity. Health Minister Simon Harris is due to bring proposals forward on the matter in the coming days.

In the meantime, you can show your support for student nurses by donating to a GoFundMe page which was set up by Jessica Riley.

A social care worker who works with the homeless and with adolescents in care, Jessica is currently studying for a Masters in Psychoanalytics & Psychotherapy. She says that she found it deeply unfair that the hospital placement as part of her own college course was cancelled due to the risk of infection, while the student nurses were still expected to work.

“Given the fact that we are now facing a worldwide pandemic, to think that they are not being paid is wrong.

“You don’t go into a job thinking that the job could be the death of you. And it’s not just their own health – they are rising their families’ health as well. A lot of students would be young and living with their parents, so they would be potentially carrying the virus back to the home and exposing their families to it.”

Jessica has previously worked at St James’ Hospital as a healthcare assistant. She says that, in her experience, many student nurses are already struggling to make ends meet while juggling their placements with paying rent.

“A lot of student nurses work 12-hour shifts for three or four days, and then they’ll either come back and work as a healthcare assistant or they will go and work in a retail job. So not only are they trying to work constantly to do their placement and gain experience, but then they have to work to survive. That situation is stressful on a normal day, before you throw in a pandemic.”

Having personal experience of our “stretched” healthcare system, Jessica says that she took umbrage with the Taoiseach’s suggestion that student nurses might only be paid for carrying out clinical tasks above and beyond their current workload.

“I would consider student nurse as a vital part of the medical staff team. They administer medication [under supervision, in their final year of training], they carry out tasks assigned from the clinical nurse manager, they assist with personal care, record vital signs, change catathers, carry out suctioning on tracoscopies and give oxygen. How is that not carrying out clinical tasks?”

Jessica says she’s never done any fundraising before, but she has a lot of friends who are nurses and student nurses and she felt compelled to act. Any money she raises will go to nursing students at UCD – the pot currently stands at €765.

“Seeing their stories and the fact that they’re not being paid is got what we wanting to start the GoFundMe. There’s loads of stories of people who have lost their jobs. Some people have had to move out of their accommodation because they don’t want to expose the people that they live with to anything. On top of that then they are trying to pay for student fees, travelling and food. All of that adds up.”

Her message to the Taoiseach is clear: step up for your nurses.

“Leo Varadkar has said ‘come back for your country’. I’d say ‘step up for your nurses’. Step up for the medical team that are sacrificing their lives to save people every day and tackling this virus. God forbid you should ever have a family member that’s in hospital, but if you did more than likely you would come across a student nurse that’s risking their life to treat your loved one.”

You can donate to the Student Nurses Covid-19 fundraiser by clicking here.

Are you a student nurse or a healthcare worker who has been affected by the Covid-19 crisis? Share your story with us by emailing [email protected]