A student nurse who contracted COVID-19 while working as an unpaid intern says they need to be paid a proper wage.
Ralph is in his fourth year and said he "has been completely unpaid from the get go".
He told Lunchtime Live: "I've always said that this is an issue that's gone under the public's nose, to an extent, that people I've talked to have never actually realised that student nurses were never paid to begin with.
"But also that they're not even being paid during a pandemic".
He said the trade unions need to put pressure on Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.
"I have suffered and got COVID-19 from working on placement as a student and I was not paid.
"I don't want to sound dramatic, but there are people who are putting their lives on the line for this and for nursing as students and they're not being paid".
Jodie is a third year General Nursing student on placement in a Dublin hospital.
She said the system means she is generally working, but is only entitled to a travel allowance.
"After the last few months of COVID, I was working in hospitals as a healthcare assistant, I was getting paid cause it was deemed unsafe for me to be there as a student.
"So that was the first time we really felt valued as part of the health service - it was kind of like our work meant something, they actually regarded our safety.
"I did that all through the summer from March, and now I'm going back to placement as a third year student nurse and it's completely unpaid.
"The situation with COVID hasn't really changed an awful lot - it's still there, it's still very much real.
"And we also see a situation where there's hundreds of staff nurses and healthcare assistants out with COVID and long-term COVID.
"And we also notice that no one's really recruiting to fill these vacancies, because they know there's thousands of us there who have absolutely no choice but to fill these gaps for free."
'Not enough staff to teach'
Jodie said said she would normally work part-time while on placement, but that their status as 'supernumerary' means they are not counted as part of the staff and are there to learn.
But she said even that is not a guarantee.
"I would normally work part-time, but what I was going to say about the supernumerary status and us being there as students is we're not guaranteed that - because we are in a really over-stretched and under-funded health service.
"There's not enough staff really to guarantee the level of learning and teaching we should be getting - so a lot of the time we are working rather than learning".
She said there are now more shortages in the hospital.
She said the solution is simple: "Our belief through it all is anyone that has taken a placement where they are acting as part of the workforce, they should be paid accordingly".
In a statement, the HSE said: "There is nothing precluding the students from applying for any other post they are eligible for in the HSE including part time work, given their undergraduate commitments."
On this, Jodie said: "The colleges themselves and the hospitals we're training in usually aren't the ones who are telling us we can't work - it's usually people who work in private nursing homes, or with certain agencies, and they say you can only be in one clinical area at a time".
Working COVID wards
Fourth year student nurse Muireann said she feels she is being exploited.
"There's a lot of issues going on between being exploited as a student, being exploited as an intern".
"We're being made to go on to COVID wards without being given any choice.
"Personally I know a few of my friends went on to COVID wards for placement and myself - we didn't get asked if that was OK with us, we didn't get asked if we had any family members who are ill at home, there was really no support given to us".
She said while nurses would generally not have a choice where they go, student nurses are not being paid and the COVID-19 risk means "you can't work in other places, so basically you have no source of income".
And she said they cannot claim the Pandemic Unemployment Payment "because you technically may have not been fired from your job".
Muireann said while she is getting paid, as she is in her final year, others coming in this year will not be.
She said interns last year due to the COVID were paid an increased wage but since then, their wages have been dropped.
"The new interns starting in January will actually be starting on just basic minimum wage, which is not enough money to be able to afford accommodation in Dublin, or anything like that.
"Most people, usually on internships in times without COVID, are able to work part-time as well alongside to get a bit of extra money - whereas they won't be able to do that now".
She added: "The pay that we're getting is not being reflected on the work that we're actually doing.
"And especially for students in first, second and third year - who are getting absolutely nothing.
"Why should they have to wait until they get to fourth year when you're used as a full body of staff, you're included in the roster, you have your own patients, there's so much more pressure on you".