BMA’s Northern Ireland medical students committee (NIMSC) has reiterated its appeal to the Department of Health to reconsider its decision not to include medical students in proposal to pay £2,000 to students who have been on non-salaried clinical placements during the covid-19 pandemic.
The Health Minister Robin Swann announced that the payment would be targeted at “students on pre-registration programmes which, during their clinical placement, actively participate in the direct delivery of care, supporting patient safety and improving health outcomes”.
However, in a letter to BMA the Department of Health confirmed that medical students – who returned to clinical placement last August / September 2020 in both secondary and primary care playing a key support function in the frontline pandemic response - would not be included in this payment.
NIMSC has written to the Minister this week calling on him to reconsider the decision.
“It is extremely disappointing and disheartening that the Department of Health has chosen not to recognise medical students as well in this payment scheme and we have been inundated by medical students who are understandably very upset about the omission,” said NIMSC chair and final year QUB medical student Aisling McCarthy.
“The Minister states that the payment is targeted at “students on pre-registration programmes which, during their clinical placement, actively participate in the direct delivery of care, supporting patient safety and improving health outcomes”. This describes exactly the role medical students have undertaken while on clinical placements. We are therefore at a loss as to why we should be differentiated from our healthcare colleagues and be denied this payment. Many medical students put themselves at high risk within healthcare settings in order to improve health outcomes for patients and to support our healthcare colleagues when we were on clinical placement during the pandemic.”
Aisling questioned the department’s reasoning to not include medical students in the scheme, which included additional investment to improve supervision of medical students while on clinical placement.
“This money goes directly to the Trusts to fund clinical supervision and we believe it is a completely separate issue, one that should not impact on the eligibility criteria for the payment,” she said.
“It also does not directly help the medical students themselves, many of whom who will still be financially disadvantaged as a result of the pandemic from the loss of part-time work in sectors such as hospitality and non-essential retail, sectors where students are more likely to take jobs to fit around study commitments.”
Medical student Shane O’Hara explained what his clinical placement entailed during the ongoing pandemic.
“As well as usual clinical placement tasks, I and many of my medical student colleagues have also assisted healthcare staff on unpaid, ward-based tasks that would normally be done by salaried junior doctors and nurses, such as taking bloods, observations and documentation,” said Shane.
“We do this willingly as our priorities have always been to put the safety and welfare of our patients first ahead of our own education. We have often had to sacrifice available learning opportunities and study time, despite our exams closely approaching.”
Regarding the financial pressures medical students are under, Shane added: “We have to attend hospitals and GP surgeries to see patients in person as part of our studies. This brings the usual added costs such as transport, food, as well as rent and utilities if we have to live away from home,” explained Shane.
“This all adds up. Means-tested grants and loans are available, but they are rarely sufficient to cover all expenses. Even with taking on part-time work, most medical students will graduate with heavy debt.”
Aisling called on the Department of Health to reconsider its position and extend the payment to medical students.
“At a time when there are chronic staffing gaps across all medical specialities, which have been thrown into sharp focus by the pandemic, we need to be doing all we can to encourage as many young people as possible from all socio-economic backgrounds into a career in medicine,” said Aisling.
“A £2,000 payment is a massive help to med students, particularly med students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, to support them to stay on in their studies. For many med students who will now be looking at where they want to develop their career, Northern Ireland is increasingly looking like a place that does not value doctors and the huge contribution they make to our health service.”