Around 4,500 student nurses are set to receive a new Pandemic Placement Grant worth €100 per week when they are on hospital placements following allegations of exploitation during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The payment, which could cost up to €5.4m a year and would last until the pandemic ends, is recommended in a review commissioned by the Department of Health and carried out by Professor Tom Collins.
The issue of pay for student nurses and midwives moved centre stage politically late last year when the opposition alleged that many were being used as unpaid staff, and were being assigned to inappropriate tasks.
The Dáil heard allegations that one such student had been assigned to lay out a baby who had passed away, although the HSE has said that senior management have not received complaints of inappropriate assignments.
The Collins review recommends the Pandemic Placement Grant should be paid net of tax from January 2021 until the end of the pandemic.
If implemented from now until the end of the academic year in June, it would cost €3m.
However, that cost would rise to €5.4m if Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly acceded to Prof Collins' recommendation to consider backdating it to last September.
Eligible students should also retain an entitlement to existing placement allowances of around €50 per week towards travel and accommodation costs, along with SUSI grants and any PUP payments to which some may have been entitled.
However, not all student nurses are entitled to the €50 travel/accommodation allowance. It depends on where students live and where they have to travel to.
Many students funding their studies by part-time work as Health Care Assistants in nursing homes suffered further hardship when they were forced to quit their jobs in case they spread infection from their hospital placements to vulnerable clients in non-hospital sites.
Late last year, Minister Donnelly arranged for students in this position to avail of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
A further, longer term review of student nurses' pay is to get under way shortly.
Prof Collins also recommends that the Pandemic Placement Grant should be included in the terms of reference of that review of supports for student nurses and midwives, which should also examine pay rates for interns on rostered duties.
He highlights the educational element of student placements, urging Higher Education Institutions to address any psychological issues that may arise for students exposed to trauma during in clinical settings.
Traditionally, student nurses and midwives in Years 1-3 have to do hospital placements ranging from nine to 12 weeks, during which they are supposed to be "supernumerary" meaning they do not count as working staff as they are supposed to be in training.
Fourth-year internships last for around 36 weeks, for which students earn around €15k rather than the equivalent annual salary of around €22k.
The report notes that to address staff shortages in the early stages of the pandemic, rostered fourth year interns were placed on three month Health Care Assistant salaries, while 1,250 of those on "supernumerary" placement accepted voluntary temporary contracts as Health Care Assistants.
The Collins report notes that while the Government could do this again if further surges resulting in staff shortages occur, it would be preferable to address those shortages through normal staffing strategies.
Nursing unions have dismissed pay proposals for student nurses as inadequate.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation held a meeting this evening with 40 student representatives, but described their reaction as "deeply disappointed".
The INMO said the €100 per week payment was totally inadequate and noted that the proposals did nothing for fourth year students.
It also stressed that circumstances had changed since the review was launched, with case numbers soaring and a rising risk of infection.
SIPTU Official John McCamley said the proposals did not go far enough to address members' concerns.
The Psychiatric Nurses Association is considering the review. Minister Donnelly has not yet issued any comment.