Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (51, 52)

Tom Hayes

Question:

161 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps he intends to take to deal with the high attrition rate of Irish qualified nurses. [1547/04]

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Róisín Shortall

Question:

174 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps being taken to address the continuing serious shortage of nurses; the further steps being taken to ensure that qualified nurses remain in the hospital service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1910/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 161 and 174 together.

The recruitment and retention of adequate numbers of nursing staff has been a concern of the Government for some time. A number of substantial measures have been introduced in recent years, some with the specific intention of retaining existing staff and encouraging nursing staff who have left the profession to return to employment. These include an increase of 70% in the number of nursing training places from 968 in 1998 to 1,640 from 2002 onwards; payment of fees to nurses and midwives undertaking part-time nursing and certain other undergraduate degree courses; an improved scheme of financial support for student paediatric nurses and student midwives; the payment of fees and enhanced salary to nurses and midwives undertaking courses in specialised areas of clinical practice; the abolition of fees for "back to practice" courses and payment of salary to nurses and midwives undertaking such courses; financial support to State enrolled nurses, SEN, working in the Irish health service wishing to undertake nursing conversion programmes in the United Kingdom; 40 sponsorships being made available each year for certain categories of health service employees wishing to train as nurses; and the introduction of flexible working options.

The following table illustrates the improvements that have taken place in nursing numbers in recent years:

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

Whole-time Equivalents

26,611

27,044

29,173

31,428

33,395

In 1998, there were 26,611 whole-time equivalent nurses employed in the public health system. By the end of 2002 this figure had reached 33,395. This is an increase of almost 6,800 during the period or more than 25%.

The most recent HSEA survey, published in November 2003, showed that 722 vacancies existed at 30 September 2003, a decrease from 1,017 on 30 September 2002. The vacancy rate now stands at 1.85% nationally, a decrease from the October 2000 figure of 4.3%. These vacancies are adequately compensated for through the use of overtime and agency nurses.

In relation to attrition, the same survey found that, in the year ending 30 September 2003, the number of nurses who resigned or retired was 2,937. During the same period, the number of nurses recruited was 4,084. Therefore the excess of recruits over retirements and resignations was 1,147. This clearly demonstrates that the level of recruitment activity is well ahead of losses through retirements and resignations. The figure of 33,395 whole-time equivalents translates into 39,119 individual nurses. Of these, some 28,366 work full-time, and 10,753 work job-sharing or other atypical patterns. Thus, more than one quarter of the nursing workforce avail of family-friendly work patterns. Figures from An Bord Altranais indicate that there is a steady stream of new entrants into the profession. The table below illustrates the number of applications for registration between 1998 and November 2003:

Division

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

General

2,092

2,143

2,518

4,582

3,450

1,970

Mental Handicap

140

163

188

176

153

156

Psychiatric

239

236

248

266

410

365

Total

2,471

2,542

2,954

5,024

4,013

2,491

Foreign recruitment has made a valuable contribution to addressing staff shortages in the nursing area, and An Bord Altranais continues to receive applications for registration from overseas nurses. The total number of foreign registrations for the years 1998-2003 is set out hereunder:

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

Nov 2003

Overseas

94

142

631

2,311

1,760

740

EU (excl. Ireland)

1,417

1,521

1,585

1,424

1,194

839

Total (excl. Ireland)

1,511

1,663

2,216

3,735

2,954

1,579

It is clear from these figures that the recruitment and retention measures I introduced are proving very effective.

Question No. 162 answered with QuestionNo. 156.