Notwithstanding significant recruitment and retention challenges, including global shortages, considerable progress has been made in the past four years in growing the numbers of front line staff working in the public health services, including doctors and nurses, as additional resources have become available.
The number of consultants has increased by 109 in the 12 months ending December 2017 to 2,971 whole time equivalents, and by 415 in the 4 years since December 2013. The number of NCHDS has increased by 270 in the 12 months ending December, 2017 to 6,331 whole time equivalents, and by 1,323 in the 4 years since December 2013.
It is recognised that retention of doctors is critical to the future growth of the medical workforce. In July 2013 a Working Group, chaired by Prof. Brian MacCraith, President, Dublin City University, was established to carry out a strategic review of medical training and career structure. The Group made 25 recommendations relating to training and career pathways for doctors with a focus on improving graduate retention in the public health system and planning for future service needs. Initiatives taken on foot of the Group's recommendations include the launch of a careers and training website, which gives information about each specialty, including details of training pathways and training duration, increasing the number of family friendly training places and the appointment of lead NCHDs across sites. The MacCraith Implementation Monitoring Group continues its work and has identified the need to progress other key recommendations including protected training time, task transfer and better coverage of training costs incurred by NCHDs.
With regard to nurses, the number of nurses and midwives has increased by 942 in the 12 months ending December 2017 to 36,777 whole time equivalents and by 2,599 in the 4 years since December 2013. In terms of the number of nurses required in public hospitals, the Nursing Recruitment and Retention Agreement, was concluded with the INMO and SIPTU Nursing last year. This committed the HSE to increasing the number of nurses and midwives by 1,224 additional permanent posts across the health service in 2017. Indications are that there has been significant growth in the appointment of nurses and midwives in recent months with 942 WTE of the 1,224 posts filled (including student nurses). The HSE remain committed to the Agreement and efforts will continue to fill the remaining posts. Funded workforce plans for 2018 are in the process of being developed.
I can assure the Deputy that the HSE recognises the need to continue to focus on the recruitment and retention of front-line staff, such as doctors and nurses, and that it is committed to making the public health service a more attractive place to work.