I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for giving me the opportunity to update the House on this important matter. Recruitment and retention of health and social care workers is a top priority. As the Deputy outlined, budget 2022 provided funding for a large expansion of the health workforce, up to an additional 11,369 whole-time equivalents, reflecting the Government's ambition and desire to invest in our health services and to ensure health services are appropriately staffed. The HSE has identified a minimum recruitment target of 5,500 whole-time equivalents alongside a more challenging stretch target of 11,369 whole-time equivalents to be hired in 2022.
Employment levels at the end of May 2022, show there were 134,711 whole-time equivalents, equating to 153,578 personnel, directly employed in the provision of health and social care services by the HSE and the various section 38 hospitals and agencies. This is due to an unprecedented growth rate during the last three years. Since 2019, the workforce has grown by a record 14,893 whole-time equivalents, or 12.4%. In addition to this, approximately 3,000 people were recruited in 2020 and 2021 through third party agencies for Covid-related roles such as vaccinators and contract tracers. The workforce has grown by a total of 2,387 whole-time equivalents in the period between the end of 2021 to the end of May this year, with an increase of 138 whole-time equivalents in May alone.
Officials in the Department are working with the HSE on actions including the HSE's resourcing strategy 2022, which sets out a suite of actions to address recruitment challenges. It sets out the HSE's overarching governance and oversight arrangements which are in place to monitor, on a monthly basis, performance against the target.
A small HSE subgroup has been established which is developing pathways to fill difficult to fill posts for various categories of health professionals. This includes international pathways together with grow your own strategies where they are not available internationally. The HSE has developed a relocation package to ease international recruitment across all grades and, following a Department of Health business case to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the critical skills list has been expanded to facilitate international recruitment of pharmacists, cardiac physiologists, medical scientists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, podiatrists and chiropodists, psychologists and speech and language therapists. The HSE is reviewing international recruitment for specialist posts, such as nursing and midwifery specialists, with further actions identified to expedite recruitment.
Targeted work is ongoing on the recruitment of medical consultants which includes a streamlining of the recruitment process to reduce the times to hire, focusing on existing consultant posts that are challenging to fill and developing targeted strategies relating to these posts. This includes the development of marketing material to attract applications to certain locations and direct links with the medical training bodies. A microsite is also in development to increase international reach. I conclude by assuring the Deputy of the Minister's ongoing commitment to working with the HSE to address recruitment challenges.