I propose to take Questions Nos. 633 and 638 together.
Government policy requires that by the end of 2013 the health service achieves a workforce of 98,955 wholetime equivalents (WTEs), a gross reduction of almost 4,000 WTE in the current year. Given the requirement on the HSE to reduce numbers employed and to achieve savings of over €700m this year, there is very limited scope to offer new nursing posts, part-time, temporary or full-time, at present.
The Public Service Stability Agreement 2013-2016 (The Haddington Road Agreement) contains a number of provisions that will deliver additional hours and which will allow the HSE to reduce the use of agency staff. Among these provisions are an increase in the working week of nurses and midwives to 39 hours per week and the Graduate Nurse Placement Initiative.
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform approved the Graduate Nurse Placement Initiative on the basis that participants would not be counted in health service staff numbers and that it would contribute to savings on unsustainable levels of agency and overtime expenditure. This Initiative will enable the health services to offer 1,000 graduate nurses with positions for two years. It will support the retention of recently qualified graduate nurses and midwives within the Irish health system and enable them to gain valuable work experience and development opportunities post-graduation, at a time when job opportunities in the public service are very limited.