1,000 new nursing jobs 'won't solve ward staff crisis'
The Government's much-vaunted Budget promise to hire 1,000 extra nurses may have limited impact on under-staffing affecting patient care in many wards, it emerged yesterday.
The Irish Independent has learned a significant number of these jobs are only replacements for existing agency nurses who are needed to maintain over-stretched wards. This was not made clear at the announcement about the 1,000 nursing jobs at a Budget-day press conference led by Health Minister Simon Harris.
It means that, even if hospitals manage to recruit full-time nurses, many of them will only be taking the place of an agency worker, leaving wards continuing to struggle.
Questioned yesterday on how many additional nurses the recruitment would actually involve, the minister said he did not have a number at this stage and it is a matter for the HSE.
It will be a mix of replacing agency staff and extra nurses, he said. Hospitals are currently spending €4m a month on agency workers because of the crisis in recruitment.
Liam Doran, general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, said it needs to be clarified how many of these 1,000 jobs are additional and what proportion are just a conversion from agency posts. "There are 675 jobs every day filled by agency. Converting them to full-time posts would be a very good thing to do," he said.
"But it won't yield extra manpower on the wards. That won't address the staff shortages."
The minister also confirmed that nurses who graduated between 2011 and 2015 who lost out on increments are to have them paid. It will mean payment of an extra €1,040 and €1,477 per year.
More than 7,500 nurses graduated in this time but the minister admitted only around 4,000 are working in the public service. Mr Doran said thousands have gone abroad. He said the measure would help to encourage nurses abroad to return here but would not be enough on its own.
The HSE needs to look at the measures used by private nurses and hospitals in the UK to recruit nurses. The Mater private hospital is offering a start-up allowance of €6,000 and Bons Secours is offering €3,000.
Meanwhile, the country's hospital emergency department consultants warned that on Budget day, some 438 patients languished on trolleys.
Six of these hospitals had in excess of 20 patients on trolleys, and three were struggling to care for more than 30 patients.
"In 2016, in a developed country that spends €14.6bn on the health service this is simply unacceptable," said Irish Association of Emergency Medicine spokesman Fergal Hickey. "Many of these patients are elderly. Some in their 80s and 90s have been obliged to wait far in excess of 24 hours.
"The absence of significant capital investment in the health service's decaying infrastructure and any real attempt to address the serious shortage of acute hospital beds is deeply disappointing.
"It suggests that the government is happy to lose yet more of its citizens to premature death and disability.
"There is clear evidence of the harm caused by overcrowding which results in an estimated 350 excess, avoidable deaths per year in Ireland as well as many more patients who have poorer medical outcomes."