Fourth-year nursing students who are currently working as interns in hospitals are set to be paid more, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has confirmed.

In an update to its student members the INMO said that the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive had clarified that fourth-year interns, who were earning less than Healthcare Assistants (HCAs), will now be paid on the HCA salary scale.

The HCA salary scale starts at €13.82 per hour.

First, second and third-year students, whose placements were cancelled, were already entitled to apply to work as HCAs, and part of that work would count towards their clinical placement hours.

The INMO informed members that there is now a separate application process for student nurses and midwives for HCA positions. 

Fourth-year students have also been informed that when they will conclude their studies, their registration process will be fast tracked.

Traditionally, fourth year student nurses were paid for the final 36 weeks of their training spent in a clinical setting.

However, in December 2010, the then government decided to phase out payment for the clinical placement, and to abolish incremental credit for it.

In 2011 it was decided to maintain the students' pay at 50% of the first point of the staff nurses scale - meaning they were earning an average of €6.86 - less than the national minimum wage.

In 2013 this was increased to 55% of the first point of the staff nurse scale, reflecting the trainee rates in the minimum wage legislation, and the introduction of the longer 39-hour-week under the Haddington Road Agreement.

Many observers believe the pay cut contributed to the surge in qualifying nurses moving abroad and to the difficulty in recruiting nurses to work in Ireland, which has in-turn contributed to understaffing and overcrowding in hospitals.

From 1 March 2016, fourth-year student nurses earned €9.48 per hour - equivalent to 70% of the first point of the staff nurses incremental pay scale.

Upon graduation, they moved to the second point of the staff nurse scale (€29,497) after 16 weeks .

The compulsory 36-week hospital training placement is also recognised officially as time served for the incremental scale.