Tuesday, 11 March 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): Information on the turnover of staff is not collected on a routine basis by my Department. I have asked the chief executive officers of the health boards and the regional chief executive of the Eastern Regional Health Authority to supply the information available to them on the turnover of social work staff in their health board areas over the years in question and I will communicate directly with the Deputy when this information is received.
The Deputy will be aware however that one of the functions of the National Social Work Qualifications Board is to conduct research to inform labour force planning. The board has recently published a report of a survey on social work posts nationally, conducted on 1 September 2001. Turnover rate, the number of employees who left an agency in the year leading up to 1 September as a percentage of employment, was measured in the survey and a turnover rate of 18.1%, 362 staff, is shown. The survey indicated that 176 or nearly half the social workers who left their posts did so to take up another social work post or a secondment to another Irish agency, illustrating the mobility within the profession. Only 6% left to take up a non-social work post.
I am very conscious nonetheless that difficulties have been experienced by some health boards in recruiting and retaining social work staff in certain areas. A number of steps have been taken therefore to improve recruitment and retention generally. The provision of additional training places is a central element of the strategy to meet the human resource requirements of the health services in social work. A further 54 social work training places were provided in 2002, bringing the total number of training places to 192, com pared to 138 in 2001. This represents an increase of +85 training places, 80%, over the level of training provision in 2000. In addition, the National Social Work Forum has been established to progress a number of key issues for the social work profession, arising from the recommendations included in the report of the expert group on various health professions published in April 2000. Major developments designed to improve job satisfaction and career and professional development for social workers include the creation of a new grade of senior social work practitioner and the upgrading of single-handed and certain specialised posts. A further initiative is the undertaking, under the aegis of the National Social Work Forum, of a social work workload management study designed to facilitate the best use of social work time and human resources. All these developments, along with the implementation of the action plan for people management under the health strategy, will make an important contribution to strengthening the capacity of the health services to recruit and then retain social work staff. The effectiveness of the initiatives already undertaken can be seen in the significant increase in the overall number of social workers employed in the health service by 35%, +437, in whole time equivalent, WTE, terms over the two years to end-2001, with total employment rising to 1,682 WTEs over that period. This substantial increase highlights the increased attractiveness of employment in the health services for social workers, reflecting the impact of pay increases, improvements in career structure and enhanced opportunities for professional development.
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