Notwithstanding the need to reduce public service numbers, the HSE has the capacity to recruit where it is necessary to do so in order to ensure patient safety and quality care and to support service delivery.
While the focus under the Public Service Agreement and the Haddington Road Agreement (HRA) is on increased productivity and reform, additional nursing support is being made available throughout the system. The increase in nursing hours available under the HRA equates to nearly 1,400 additional nurses. Nearly 500 nurses and midwives have commenced employment in recent months on the graduate scheme, with over 200 others currently going through the recruitment process. It is important also to note the link between nursing qualifications and safety and to recognise that nurse education levels are also linked to patient outcomes. The recent Lancet study showed that a 10% increase in the proportion of nurses holding a nursing degree is associated with a 7% decrease in the risk of death. Ireland has invested significantly in nurse education since the Commission on Nursing in 1998. Approximately €55 million is spent annually on nurses education and around 1,570 nurses enter the undergraduate programme each year.
It has been necessary to reduce the numbers of staff employed in the public health service, including nursing, in order to contain health service costs. However, I recognise that there is a balance to be struck to meet both economic requirements and patient safety requirements. It is imperative that patient safety continues to be maintained in the context of these reductions and achieving this requires that relevant expertise is applied to the decision making process. It is for this reason that I have approved the establishment of a taskforce to develop a framework that will determine the staffing and skill mix requirements for the nursing workforce in a range of major specialities. The focus will be on the development of staffing and skill mix ranges which take account of a number of influencing factors. The taskforce will be chaired by the Chief Nursing Officer.