As the Deputy will be aware, successful completion by a student of the three-year nursing registration/diploma programme leads to registration as a nurse with An Bord Altranais, at which point he or she will become eligible for employment as a nurse. Since a degree in nursing is not a requirement for registration as a nurse and subsequent employment, such a qualification would be an optional post-registration qualification. Members of the nursing profession wishing to undertake a nursing degree programme at the National University of Ireland, Galway, are, therefore, responsible for making their own arrangements, including the payment of course fees. I am not in a position to provide funding for these courses.
The Deputy will be interested to note that I have established the representative Nursing Education Forum recommended by the Commission on Nursing to prepare a strategy for moving pre-registration nursing education to a four-year degree programme in time for the intake of nursing students in the year 2002. The forum will be chaired by Dr. Laraine Joyce, Deputy Director of the Office for Health Management. It includes representatives of the schools of nursing, health service providers, third level institutions and An Bord Altranais. A majority of the membership of the forum are members of the nursing profession. The establishment of the forum represents an important step forward in enhancing pre-registration nursing education and training.
I might also mention that the annual maintenance grant payable to nursing students will be increased by £250 to £3,250 with effect from 1 April next. The value of this grant, which is not subject to a means test, will therefore have been increased by 30 per cent within two years of my coming into office.
I have also provided funding of £350,000 to An Bord Altranais and to various schools of nursing for a promotional campaign, at both local and national level, aimed at attracting more young people to nursing. I would hope that the recruitment drive that is currently under way, together with the increase in the maintenance grant, will result in an increased level of interest among school leavers in nursing as a career.