© D Storan

Student Nurses: Harris promised to pay us, and he hasn’t.

There are few people braver, and more deserving of our thanks as a nation, than those who are getting up every morning, and going to work in Ireland’s hospitals, where they are at genuine risk of contracting a life threatening illness, and dying, in the course of trying to save the lives of others.

Should you come down with the Coronavirus, and require hospitalisation, people are going to try to save your life. Surely we can all agree that if anybody in Ireland deserves to get paid at the moment, it’s those people?


This is the classic horrible government bureaucratic technicality, the kind that really should make anyone who thinks we should have more government in our lives sit up and think, but never actually seems to have that effect.

Basically, the situation is this: Because the crisis requires many extra hands in health, the Government and Minister Harris asked student nurses, in training, to come and work and help in the hospitals. He promised to pay them for their services. And pay them he has – well, some of them.

Imagine, if you can, two nursing students in the same class, back in late December. Both of them were scheduled to go on work placements, in this hypothetical scenario; One of them starting in the Mater Hospital in January, and the second starting in St. Vincent’s in April.

Because of the crisis, the person scheduled to start in April signed up and started working in early March. And that person is being paid.

But the person who was on a placement anyway, and had started in January? They are not being paid. Because according to Harris, they were pre-existing staff, and students on placement don’t usually get paid for their work.

But in this situation, that’s absurd. Students on placement might not usually get paid, but they’re not usually asked to risk their lives either.

In fact, these students are literally the only people in Ireland working on the Coronavirus crisis, trying to save lives, who are not being paid.

It’s an injustice, and it’s one the Government needs to move swiftly to correct. This is, after all, why we pay all those hated taxes in the first place.

The thinking behind it, though abhorrent, isn’t hard to understand. Government departments and agencies think like the worst stereotypes of accountants, nearly all the time. Over the years this has produced constant, stupid, avoidable outrages, from Michael Noonan’s disgraceful treatment of women with Hepatitis as a result of blood donations in the 1990’s through to women having to sue the state over the cervicalcheck scandal in more recent years.

Doing the decent thing doesn’t come naturally to bureaucracies, which instinctively treat people like numbers on a page, rather than actual human beings with moral value and worth.

In this case, the generous assessment is that this was a decision taken by some pencil pusher in a middle ranking tier of the health department, and that Harris probably isn’t (or wasn’t) even aware of it up until now. You would assume that he’ll move quickly to address it.

If he doesn’t, it won’t say much good about him.

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