I must clarify at the outset that the HSE's overriding requirement is to prioritise the delivery of safe services, within available resources, and frontline staffing numbers continue to grow in support of this priority.
Over the past five years the numbers of whole-time equivalent consultants, nurses and midwives working in the public health sector have increased significantly. In the consultant category there has been an increase of over 600 whole time equivalents in the past five years, while for nurses and midwives the figure is over 3,500.
This incremental growth in frontline staffing numbers is ongoing, and in the 12-month period to end October 2019, there continued to be increases with circa 150 additional consultants and 650 extra nurses and midwives.
Regarding consultants, the recommendations of the 2017 Sláintecare Report re-orientates the Irish health system towards one that prioritises fair and equal access to consultant led care for all patients. My Department recently published the de Buitléir report, following the establishment of a Group to examine how to give effect to the Sláintecare recommendation on the removal of private practice from the public hospital system. The recommendations of this report provide the pathway to deliver on the Sláintecare vision of a consultant delivered model of care and addressing issues with regard to safe staffing levels.
The Government is committed to the implementation of Sláintecare. In this regard, my Department, together with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the HSE, recently met with both the IMO and the IHCA, and will be seeking to continue to engage with both bodies on Sláintecare and the de Buitléir report. As the Taoiseach outlined recently to the House, progress is being made between my Department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of An Taoiseach on the approach to implement the de Buitléir recommendations. It is through the implementation of this major reform that issues in relation to Consultant recruitment, retention, pay and other conditions will be addressed.