Tuesday, 31 January 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
171. Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the 1,100 nursing vacancies in hospitals and health care facilities here; the figures on the costs involved in filling these vacancies day to day by agency staff and staff nurses working overtime; the steps she intends to take to combat the fact that 1,500 Irish trained nurses leave here every year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3037/06]
Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney): According to the most recent Health Service Executive-employers agency survey of nursing resources, recruitment remains ahead of resignations and retirements. Employers reported that 1,131 vacancies existed at 30 September 2005 — an increase of 13 compared to the previous quarter. This gives a vacancy rate of 3.24%. The vacancy figures should be seen in the context of overall employment which now stands at 34,878 whole time equivalent nurses and midwives, 41,655 individuals, a 36% increase since 1997.
There will always be some level of movement due to resignations, retirements and nurses availing of opportunities to change employment and locations. There is an additional pressure this year due to the lack of domestic nursing graduates in autumn 2005 because of the move from a three year diploma to a four year degree programme to train nurses. The HSE’s nursing and midwifery recruitment and retention national project is monitoring the situation on an ongoing basis. During 2005 the HSE has conducted a successful recruitment drive in India and the Philippines. The HSE is also targeting inactive nurses for recruitment through an extensive advertising campaign. The financial arrangements for those undertaking back to nursing courses were improved last year.
A combination of agency nurses and overtime working provides an additional input of nursing resources to cope with difficulties arising in the provision of services while employers continue the recruitment process to fill vacancies. It should be noted that in addition to covering vacancies, agency nurses are also used to “special”— one to one nursing — patients and clients and to cover for permanent nursing staff availing of various leave entitlements. The HSE is currently finalising the compilation of data on the full cost of agency nursing and overtime in 2005. The latest available data from the HSE is that up November 2005 the estimated cost of agency nursing was €45.65 million and nursing overtime €44.57 million.
I am not sure of the Deputy’s source of data relating to numbers of Irish trained nurses leaving the country each year. It is my understanding that to suggest 1,500 nurses leave to work abroad is a gross over estimation of the true figure. Irish nurses and midwives who wish to work abroad are required by the authorities in the host country to obtain a verification of their nursing registration from An Bord Altranais. Figures supplied by An Bord Altranais show that 689 Irish nurses received verifications to work abroad in 2005. That an Irish nursing qualification is welcomed abroad is an attraction for some young people considering their career options. The data from An Bord Altranais shows that Australia is the most popular destination for Irish nurses. However, it should be noted that Australia is a very popular destination for Irish people generally in their 20s and 30s. It is my understanding that many of the Irish nurses who work abroad return to Ireland each year having gained valuable experience in overseas health systems.
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