Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has confirmed that student nurses who lost part-time jobs because of the Covid-19 crisis will be eligible for the pandemic unemployment payment.

There are about 4,000 student nurses and midwives, a number of whom had second jobs including in healthcare settings such as nursing homes to fund their studies.

But the students had to give up those part-time positions to avoid the risk of cross-infection. Many of them worked as healthcare assistants during the first lockdown when hospitals were under pressure with staff shortages and increased admissions.

The pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) will be applied retrospectively from the day they lost their jobs or had to give them up.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) which raised concerns about the loss of students’ income, was informed last week about the pandemic payment.

The Department of Health and the Department of Social Protection confirmed they were working closely together to ensure the nurses received supports.

The Department of Health also confirmed that 31 student nurses had contracted Covid-19 since March.

The largest number of cases was in April when 12 students were infected while the second highest month for infection was October when six students contracted the virus.

News of the Covid-cases among nurses and the PUP payment eligibility emerged as Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that pay for student nurses and midwives was under consideration.

But he said that any agreement would only take effect from September next year.

It follows sustained Opposition pressure about pay for student nurses and midwives.

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On Wednesday night, the Government rejected by 79 to 72 votes a Solidarity-People Before Profit motion to reinstate pay for those student nurses who worked and were paid as healthcare assistants during the first wave of the pandemic at €14 an hour. But payment was subsequently stopped.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said the Government was taking advantage of student nurses and midwives.

“They are being exploited, they are being taken for granted and they deserve so much more – not claps, not slogans, not platitudes, but they deserve to be paid,” he said.

The student nurses and midwives are “our heroes” he said, having “stepped into the breach” when hospital services were “put under pressure like never before”.

“When we asked them to go to the front line to put their lives and their families’ health at risk, and to step up, the least that can be done is that they are rewarded with decent and fair pay.”

This issue would be a “litmus test” of the Government’s commitment to fairness for frontline workers, Mr Doherty added.

Rejecting the claim that that the students were being taken for granted the Tánaiste said he was very aware that applause and praise did not pay students’ bills.

Mr Varadkar said a lot of students did not get paid but exceptions were made in certain cases including gardaí in training, apprentices and nurses who he said “are paid for their preregistration year”, their final year of training, “in recognition of the fact that what they do then is unsupervised and is work that would have to be done and paid for if they did not do it”.

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Fourth-year students are paid €9.48 an hour for that clinical placement work over 36 weeks. First-, second- and third-year students are eligible only for a weekly €50 accommodation allowance.

Mr Varadkar said the issue of student pay was being considered. “A review of student allowances is now under way and will be completed shortly and it is intended that this outcome, once negotiated with the unions, will take effect from September 2021.”

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