This issue is of national importance and is critical to St. Angela's College in Sligo. I have great admiration for those who choose a career in the medical and caring professions. It is a most noble and worthy career path and marks these individuals out as true custodians of our health and well-being. Graduates from the general nursing programme in St. Angela's College are employed locally, regionally and nationally in both private hospitals and the HSE. In addition, all the graduates of the intellectual disability nursing programme have secured employment in local and regional services. I have no doubt every nursing graduate from St. Angela's College becomes an outstanding health care professional.
The proposed cuts in nursing places will lead to a reduction in the number of graduates available to the health service in the region and nationwide. The Minister's proposed cuts will mean the number of places on the bachelor of nursing science degree programme will be reduced by 310 from 1,880 to 1,570 in the forthcoming year. The intake to St. Angela's College will be reduced from 65 to 40 places annually, a 31% reduction in nursing places offered by the college. This reduction is one of the highest in the country, with the intellectual disability nursing programme being particularly hard hit, with a 40% reduction in places. General nursing will suffer a 25% reduction in places and the western region, particularly St. Angela's College, is being severely hit by these cuts.
Cutting the number of nurse training and education places is a short-sighted proposal. A shortage of nurses exists at European and global level. Cuts to undergraduate nursing numbers will make this problem worse and will have a long-term negative impact on the Irish health care system. From recent history we know that if we cut the number of nurses in training, within a few years there will be a shortage of qualified nurses. In response, international recruitment will be required to meet the needs of the Irish health service. This is a more expensive solution than continuing to educate nurses and maintaining a steady nursing work-force.
Education and training of nurses is an important investment in the capabilities and skills of our most valuable resource, our people. A nursing qualification represents a practical and durable skill, and is one of the most marketable qualifications internationally. Qualified nurses have a passport to a job anywhere in the world. From past experience, we know that if there is a short-term surplus of nurses they can find work abroad and when demand picks up at home, many of them will come back to work in our health system. Thus, the investment we made in the education and training of nurses reverts to us. As we head into a period of rapidly rising unemployment, we must strive to give maximum investment to job-related education and training. Our number one priority must be education and training for people coming out of second level this year and next.
A reduction in the number of nursing places will also have a significant impact on the number of mature students entering the profession. This will deny the health service access to a group of graduates that offers considerable practical experience to patients, service users and the nursing profession. This is a significant factor in the current economic crisis with the increase in job losses among those with practical work experience.
Do the Minister for Education and Science and the Minister for Health and Children really believe that slashing nursing education places is good for the economy, our children and our future? If they do not believe that education and training is the way to a better economy, then it is time for them to quit as Ministers. The country has a great opportunity to educate and train people for real jobs anywhere in the world. The education staff, facilities and training skills are all available. All that is needed is a student intake. I ask the Government urgently to review and reverse the proposed reduction in the numbers of nursing places being made available nationally, and in particular at St. Angela's College, Sligo. Given the scale of the job losses now sweeping across the country, we should be expanding the number of nursing education programmes, not reducing them.