Tuesday, 2 March 2004

Questions (256)

Batt O'Keeffe

Question:

336 Mr. B. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of nurses Manpower Planning suggests will be required to be recruited during 2004 and 2005; his views on the marketing strategy in terms of employment adopted by UK medical facilities; and the way he intends to counteract their employment recruitment initiatives. [6990/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

The recruitment and retention of adequate numbers of nursing staff has been a concern of this Government for some time, and a number of substantial measures have been introduced in recent years. 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; improved schemes of financial support for student paediatric nurses and student midwives; payment of fees and enhanced salary to nurses and midwives undertaking courses in specialised areas of clinical practice; 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 working in the Irish health service who wish to undertake nursing conversion programmes in the United Kingdom; and the availability of 40 sponsorships each year for certain categories of health service employees wishing to train as nurses.

The following table illustrates the improvements that have taken place in nursing numbers over the past number of 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 over 25%. It is clear from these figures that the recruitment and retention measures I introduced are proving veryeffective.

Figures from An Bord Altranais for the same period indicate that there is a steady stream of new entrants into the profession over and above those graduating from the Irish system, thus further increasing the potential recruitment pool. The following table 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 domestic staff shortages in the nursing area. An Bord Altranais continues to receive applications for registration from overseas nurses. The total number of foreign registrations for the period 1998 to 2003 is set out as follows:

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

November 2003

Overseas

94

142

631

2,311

1,760

740

EU (excluding Ireland)

1,417

1,521

1,585

1,424

1,194

839

Total (excluding Ireland)

1,511

1,663

2,216

3,735

2,954

1,579

The procedures for recruiting overseas nurses into the health service are well developed and extensive supports are in place to enable overseas nurses to obtain registration with An Bord Altranais.

In 2002, as part of the Government's commitment to implementing the recommendation of the commission on nursing, the education of student nurses was transferred to the third level education sector. This transfer is supported by a very significant capital development programme involving expenditure of more than €240 million in 13 institutes of higher education nationwide. Revenue expenditure will exceed €90 million per annum when the programme has a full population of students from 2006 onwards. Of the remaining three-year diploma students, around 1,500 will graduate this year. It is expected that these 1,500 graduates, in addition to the continued recruitment of overseas nurses and increased utilisation of health care assistants, will be sufficient to meet health service needs in 2004.

Under the new degree programme, nursing students will be employed in the health service for a 12-month period during their training. The students will be part of the rostered workforce and will receive a salary for this 12-month period. The first students will commence their rostered service in spring 2005, continuing until spring 2006. These students will make a substantial contribution to the health service and will help address the difficulties caused by the loss of a graduating class in 2005. It should be noted that such rostered students will be a constant feature of the health services from 2005 onwards.

Officials from my Department are in touch with senior nurse managers throughout the country on a regular basis and discussions indicate that the problem of a lack of graduates in 2005 will only manifest itself in spring 2006. As there will be a cohort of graduates available by early autumn 2006, the problem has a relatively short lifespan. A working group representing health service employers and my Department is in the process of being established for the purpose of identifying where the main gaps are likely to arise as a result of the lack of graduates in 2005 and to devise a strategy for dealing with these gaps.

My Department recently gave approval to the roll-out, on a national basis, of the health care assistant training programme, which commenced in December 2003. The main objective of the programme is to increase the skills of health care assistants so that, working under the supervision of nurses, they are enabled to take on a wider range of duties, thereby freeing nursing resources to concentrate on exclusively nursing tasks. Up to 500 health care assistants will be trained each year at an estimated annual cost of €3 million.

I am confident the extensive range of measures outlined, including recruitment of overseas nurses and increased use of health care assistants, in addition to close monitoring and assessment of the situation on an ongoing basis will prove to be effective in addressing any shortfall arising in the nursing workforce in 2004 and 2005.

Marketing strategies adopted by UK employers are strictly a matter for those employers. However, there is considerable movement of UK-trained nurses into Ireland. In the three years up to the end of 2003, a total of 3,051 UK-trained nurses registered with An Bord Altranais. Overall, the total number of overseas nurses registered in Ireland in the same period was almost 8,300. It is clear from these figures that overseas nurses, including those from the UK, find Ireland an attractive location in which to pursue their careers.