Exodus of Irish nurses wooed to UK by lure of travel, car and housing subsidies
Growing numbers of Irish nurses are propping up hospitals in England while understaffing here is fuelling waiting lists and trolley overcrowding.
There are now at least 4,670 Irish nurses in England. This amounts to one in every 66 of the NHS nursing workforce.
The figures, which were compiled for the Irish Independent by NHS Digital, reveal the extent of the exodus of home-grown nurses to England, traditionally their top overseas destination.
It comes as nurses threaten industrial action across the health service here from early next month.
The action, in protest at failures to provide enough incentives to recruit and retain staff, will result in ward closures.
It is understood that around 1,500 nursing posts currently are vacant.
The HSE said there was an ongoing shortage of general nurses across all areas, in emergency departments, intensive care units and theatres.
There are also challenges in recruiting midwives and centres along the east coast are in need of mental health and intellectual disability nurses.
Retaining nurses remains a struggle for hospitals.
A HSE spokeswoman said the average nurse turnover rate for 2015 was 6.9pc but was as high as 7.5pc - one in 13 - in the larger acute hospitals.
It has led to theatres lying idle for days when operations could be carried out in hospitals such as Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin. The shortage has restricted the number of surgeries carried out on children with scoliosis whose condition is deteriorating.
At the same time, NHS Trusts have been successfully wooing Irish nurses with attractive packages worth up to €10,000 in some cases.
They are throwing in incentives such as travel allowances, accommodation subsidies and even estate agent costs in some cases. There are also generous grants toward further education courses.
NHS Hospital Trusts, which continue to suffer a shortage of nurses, are allowed more individual flexibility when it comes to attracting foreign recruits and they are now competing with each other for staff.
An example of the offers includes a package from the Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Trust where a nurse with three year's experience who relocates can get a package worth about €5,280.
This would include an option to join a lease car scheme and travel costs which can be used to return home.
The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland, which registers nurses and regulates the profession, said it now processed a completed application from a nurse who wanted to work here in 10 to 15 working days, compared with 90 days in 2015.
There were 2,055 registrations of nurses from abroad to work here in 2016.
Dr Angela Flynn of the School of Nursing & Midwifery in UCC said she believed the HSE could incentivise nurses to stay here if it offered to fund further education courses.
"We need to match the offers of the UK in this area of professional development courses. A post graduate diploma here in cardiac and intensive care is €7,500 for instance. The HSE has some funding support but not enough to meet demands," she said.