As Minister for Health, the recruitment and retention of nurses and midwives has been and is a consistent priority for me. Challenges exist in recruitment and retention of these professions, which is not news to the Deputy, as she knows and shares my view. We operate against a backdrop of a global shortage of nurses and midwives. Despite these challenges, however, the data show that we have managed to increase the number of nurses and midwives employed, which should not be ignored in this debate.
When the number of nurses and midwives employed by the HSE is compared between September 2017 and September 2018, it shows there has been an increase of 1,050 whole-time equivalents, including student nurses. Without student nurses, the increase is 1,039 whole-time equivalents. The Deputy refers to a statement made by the HSE in its annual report for 2017 which in many ways confirms what we already know - that we are operating within a competitive recruitment market when it comes to filling positions involving health professionals, not least nurses and midwives.
The recent pay proposals put forward were a positive step towards making the public health service a more attractive place to work for nurses and midwives. The PSPC recommended an increase of 20% to the specialist qualification and location allowances for nurses. The allowances are also to be extended to maternity services. In addition, the commission recommended the eligibility requirements for a senior staff nurse or midwife be reduced from 20 years to 17 years.
The Government also proposed to address the issue of new entrant pay, not just for nurses but across the public service, which will benefit approximately 10,000 nurses to the value of approximately €3,000 each.
I am sorry the INMO rejected these proposals but I respect the outcome of its ballot. On foot of the public service stability agreement, PSSA, Government is making considerable resources available to increase public service pay, including in respect of nurses. This is on the basis that this agreement is honoured by all the parties involved. I understand the INMO will consider its next steps when its executive meets on 5 November but I would like to see all parties, including my Department, come together during the intervening period to see if there is a way forward. Industrial action is not something which any side wants to see. Patients do not wish to see it, and I know nurses do not wish to see it either. I hope that engagement will take place between nurses and their employer in advance of 5 November.