Tuesday, 22 June 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
94. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the full extent of staff shortages throughout the health services at present, with particular reference to community care and special needs; his plans to address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18462/04]
209. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans he has in mind to ensure the provision of adequate staff throughout the health services including hospital, community care and special hospital services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18643/04]
210. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the number and category of staff shortages in the health services throughout County Kildare; his plans to address this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18646/04]
Staffing requirements in the areas highlighted by the Deputy should be viewed in light of the very substantial increases in employment levels achieved in the health service overall in recent years. The Deputy may wish to note that there has been an increase in the level of employment of 23,706, excluding home helps, in whole-time equivalence terms since 1999, or 32.6%. In this context, comparing employment levels at the end of December 2003 to those at end-1999, there were 26%, +1,407, more medical/dental personnel and 85%, +5,853, more health and social care professionals employed in the health services in whole-time equivalent, WTE, terms. In 1998 there were 26,612 whole-time equivalent nurses employed in the public health system. By the end of December 2003 this figure had reached 33,765. This is an increase of more than 7,150 during the period, or 26.8%.
Developments such as pay increases, improvements in career structure and enhanced opportunities for professional and career development have all supported increased staffing levels for key health and social care professions. The implementation of the pay recommendations of the Public Service Benchmarking Body — which are subject to the successful ongoing completion of the performance verification process — are making a further important contribution to recruitment and improved retention. The continued implementation of the action plan for people management — a key action under the health strategy — has a crucial role in improving retention and reducing turnover of skilled staff.
As far as medical personnel are concerned the report of the National Task Force on Medical Staffing details the number of consultants and non-consultant hospital doctors that will be required in the coming years to provide a high quality, consultant-provided service.
The promotional structure within nursing, including the introduction of a clinical career pathway, has been substantially improved on foot of the recommendations of the Commission On Nursing and the 1999 nurses’ pay settlement. The National Council for the Professional Development of Nursing and Midwifery has been especially active in this area and, to date, 1,563 clinical nurse specialist and advanced nurse practitioner posts have been created.
Figures from An Bord Altranais for the same period indicate that there is a steady stream of new entrants into the profession, over and above those graduating from the Irish system, thus further increasing the potential recruitment pool. Since 1998, the total number of nurses newly registered by An Bord Altranais is 19,945. Of this number, 13,658 were overseas nurses.
According to the most recent survey of nursing vacancies by the Health Service Employers Agency, the number of nursing vacancies stood at 705 at the end of March 2004. This represents a 49% reduction in the number of vacancies reported at the end of September 2000.
The current nursing vacancy rate of less than 2% could be considered to be a normal frictional rate, given that there will always be some level of movement due to resignations, retirements and nurses availing of opportunities to change employment and locations.
Significant progress has also been achieved in doubling the total number of professional therapy training places, namely, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy — in line with the recommendations of the report entitled Current and Future Supply and Demand Conditions in the Labour Market for Certain Professional Therapists, commissioned by my Department from Dr. Peter Bacon and Associates and published in June 2001.
On the prioritisation of particular service and geographical areas, such as those mentioned by the Deputy, it should be noted that responsibility for human resource planning rests with the chief executive officer, CEO, of each board. Each CEO in managing the workforce in his/her region is responsible for determining the appropriate staffing mix and the precise grades of staff to be employed in line with service plan priorities, subject to overall employment levels remaining within the approved regional employment ceiling.
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