Full-time jobs for all 1,500 graduate nurses this year
All 1,500 nurses who graduate this year will be offered a permanent and pensionable job in hospitals and other areas of the health service, the Irish Independent has learned.
An internal memo was sent by Health Service Executive (HSE) chiefs to managers across the country yesterday, giving them unprecedented permission to offer the permanent posts to all graduating nurses in another desperate measure to alleviate emergency department overcrowding.
A shortage of nurses threatens to disrupt the opening of 300 extra hospital beds from November - one of the key measures being put in place to ease the trolley crisis as hospitals face into escalating winter pressures.
Not all nurses are expected to take up the offer, but it will come as a relief to hospitals, which currently have senior staff recruiting in the Philippines and interviewing via Skype.
It comes as negotiations on the health budget for 2016 reach their crunch stage, with signs that the final increase will be far off the "wish list" of €2bn sought by the HSE.
While some €270m in additional funding will cover issues like pay and pensions, the real test will be how much Health Minister Leo Varadkar will be able to secure for the expansion of existing services and new developments.
It is understood that funding for the Fair Deal scheme, to allow for delays for a nursing home bed not to exceed four weeks, has been guaranteed.
Extra funding is also assured to provide more home care packages, in order to reduce the number of mostly elderly people in hospital who no longer need acute care, but are occupying scarce beds.
The number of these patients has reduced to 600, freeing up around 250 acute beds every day.
The average number of patients waiting more than nine hours on trolleys has fallen from 173 in February to 109 in September.
However, the target is to bring this down to less than 70 trolleys, which will become more difficult as the weather worsens.
The Irish Independent has learned that some of the hospitals worst hit by overcrowding are to benefit from the extra 300 beds.
This includes 12 beds in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, where 41 patients were waiting for a bed yesterday morning.
Another 22 beds will open in St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin and 30 in University Hospital Galway, where patients on trolleys are still enduring waits in corridors.
The executive of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation will meet today to decide if there should be a ballot for industrial action in response to overcrowding.
Mr Varadkar met with nurses at their headquarters for two hours yesterday.
"I thought it was a very useful meeting. It was a chance for me to hear first-hand from nurses and the kind of stresses they are under," he said.
"And also to hear from them some of the things that might make a difference in the coming period. I have worked in three emergency departments and I have visited 14 in the past year, so a lot of it I had heard before, but I did hear some new things here today.
"Really I wanted to ask from them their support for the implementation of the plan that we have for emergency departments. We have €100m to fund it and the most important thing now is implementation and actually making it happen on the ground.
"The issue of industrial action wasn't discussed with me at all. I don't know at this stage how it would benefit patients. I think what we need to do now is to all work together to implement the plan."