Clinical placements for nursing and midwifery students have been suspended for at least two weeks.

The HSE made the request to the Department of Health to free up qualified supervisory staff to help with the COVID-19 response.

The Department says the suspension of all unpaid placements for students in their first to third years will start on Monday.

Fourth-year students will continue their placements with appropriate supervision, it said.

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly thanked all student nurses and midwives “for their ongoing commitment to the future of our health services”.

He added this is “an uncertain time for them” and reassured students that “all options will be considered in re-starting these placements as soon as it is possible”.

Rachel Kenna, Chief Nursing Officer in the Department of Health, said: “The education of student nurses and midwives is a priority for all of us, but this must be done safely, with the appropriate supports and supervision structures in place.”

Trade Union SIPTU is calling for student nurses and midwives to be offered temporary healthcare assistant contracts.