Student doctors who put their lives on the line during the Covid pandemic are not getting a £2,000 bonus being given to other health service trainees.
ast week, Health Minister Robin Swann announced that nurses in Northern Ireland are to receive a £500 “special recognition” payment for their work during the pandemic, while some student nurses will get £2,000.
It has since emerged that student doctors will not receive the payment and the British Medical Association (BMA) has hit out at the decision.
The union has written to Mr Swann asking him to reconsider.
Queen’s University medical student and chair of the BMA’s Medical Student’s Committee Aisling McCarthy said: “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.
“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 said the BMA has been told the money is not being given to medical students as additional funding is being made available to improve supervision of trainee doctors.
However, she explained this money goes directly to trusts and does not help assist medical students who have been financially impacted by working throughout the pandemic.
Medical student Shane O’Hara said: “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.
“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 continued: “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.
“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 continued: “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.
“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.”
The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.