Dáil Éireann - Volume 497 - 26 November, 1998

Written Answers - Student Nurses.

118. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the decisions, if any, he has made in view of the Nursing Commission's report to improve the position of student nurses in accord with that report and the shortages and difficulties in recruitment of student nurses due to the unsatisfactory conditions afforded to them. [25247/98]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): A key recommendation of the Commission on Nursing in the area of pre-registration nursing education and training relates to the establishment of a representative forum involving the third level institutions, schools of nursing, health service providers and An Bord Altranais with the objective of preparing the ground for replacing the three year diploma programme with a four year degree programme. I am currently in the process of establishing this forum.

I would point out that nursing students participating in the nursing diploma programmes receive a far higher level of financial support than other third level students. Each student receives an annual maintenance grant of £3,000. This grant is not subject to a means test. In contrast, other third level students are required to satisfy a means test in order to qualify for a maintenance grant, the maximum of which is £1,652 per annum.

Since the abolition of third level fees does not extend to the nursing diploma programmes, the student nurses' fees continue to be paid by the relevant health agency on their behalf. The average annual fee is about £1,300. A book allowance of £200 and a uniform allowance of £120 is also provided for each student commencing the programme. They are also entitled to receive free meals on a seven day per week basis in designated restaurants in health institutions. In addition, I introduced a new allowance of £20 per week earlier this year to assist students undertaking external clinical placements. This is payable where it is necessary for [889] the student to find accommodation for the duration of the placement. Students undertaking such placements who do not require accommodation receive a weekly travel pass. The average annual total value of these supports is some £6,000 per nursing student, which compares most favourably with the level of funding available to other third level students.

My Department recently issued a circular to all health agencies involved in the nursing registration-diploma programmes setting out revised arrangements for the payment of maintenance grants and third level fees in respect of nursing students who are required to repeat elements of the programme. Where such cases arise, the third level fees will be paid in respect of the academic year which the student is required to repeat. In addition, the student will receive a maintenance grant of up to 50 per cent of the value of the annual maintenance grant in respect of the repeat year. These arrangements, which are in respect of a single repeat year only, will ensure that those nursing students who are required to repeat elements of the nursing registration-diploma programme will be enabled to do so without suffering financial hardship.

There is no difficulty in recruiting general nursing students, as is reflected in the successful outcome to this year's competition. The ratio of applicants to available training places was 4: 1. This demonstrates that there continues to be considerable interest among school leavers in general nursing as a career.

It is unfortunately the case, however, that there is a lower level of interest in psychiatric and mental handicap nursing. There is clearly a need to raise the profile of both disciplines among school leaving students. With this objective in mind, my Department is making funding available to all of the schools of nursing concerned for a local marketing campaign aimed at second level schools in their respective catchment areas.

At a national level, my Department is currently engaged in discussions with An Bord Altranais in relation to the board undertaking a recruitment campaign to attract more entrants to nursing training generally. It is intended that the board will produce videos and promotional literature to underpin such a campaign. My Department has also recently completed negotiations with An Bord Altranais for the board to assume responsibility from 1999 onwards for the Nursing Applications Centre. This is in accordance with the enhanced role recommended by the Commission on Nursing for the board in the area of pre-registration nursing education.