One of the country’s busiest hospitals is considering buying property to accommodate “critical hospital staff” because of growing challenges posed by the housing crisis.
The Mater Hospital in Dublin is looking to purchase and develop property which would be used as accommodation and be provided to key healthcare workers at “a reasonable rental rate”.
The unorthodox move is being examined because of ongoing problems with staff turnover and difficulties in filling key posts at the hospital.
According to records obtained under Freedom of Information (FoI), the idea was presented to the board of the Mater last autumn by CEO Alan Sharp at which point it was in its “preliminary stages”.
Board members asked questions about its eventual cost and potential challenges around “managing the legalities of an employer and landlord relationship”.
However, it was noted that the “potential advantages to staff and the recruitment of staff were significant”.
The board was told the intention would be to provide accommodation at an affordable rate on a short-term basis, most likely for up to 12 months.
This would allow the critical hospital staff time to source more permanent accommodation, according to the records.
At board meetings, the hospital also highlighted ongoing challenges it faced in trying to keep nursing staff levels up.
In last September’s minutes, it was noted that 200 nurses had been hired, which was a significant increase on previous years but still “remained insufficient”.
It said the cost of living was becoming a major issue, particularly in Dublin, and was resulting in the loss of existing specialist nurses.
A massive 50pc of the vacancies were in the hospital’s over-extended emergency department, the minutes said.
Recruitment trips to India and Dubai were both planned but these also came with problems in getting staff to Ireland quickly.
Delays could be up to 20 months in some cases due to visa issues or difficulties with the healthcare worker getting released from their existing job.
The board minutes noted: “Nonetheless, the Philippines [recruitment] trip had been relatively successful, with approximately 27/28 nurse recruited.”
In another set of minutes from last March, the board was told the salary being offered to staff at the Mater did not reflect how challenging working there can be.
It said: “[The Mater] is an extraordinarily busy hospital but this is not reflected in salary offered to employees… as compared to other hospitals outside of Dublin that may be able to offer more of a work/life balance due to being lower acuity hospitals.”
Another meeting heard staff turnover was likely to rise but that the hospital was hoping this would remain at 10pc or less in the year.
“This will be a challenge for the HR team due to the difficulties in getting the right skill-sets in the current employment market. A significant body of work required on staff retention,” noted the minutes.
It said the figure of up to 10pc for annual turnover of staff seemed “anecdotally” to be the same as other hospitals of a similar size.
The minutes said: “There would be variances depending on the areas of specialisation but broadly speaking, it appeared to be a general trend.”
In a statement, the hospital said recruiting and retaining staff was an important issue for it, as it was for acute hospitals across Dublin, the country and internationally.
It added: “One of the areas that the Mater Hospital is examining is the provision of accommodation on a short-term basis for critical hospital staff to rent at a reasonable rate within a short distance of the hospital.
“As is widely known, the lack of affordable housing options in Dublin is a challenge for any employer recruiting staff and the Mater Hospital is no different.
“The hospital is exploring this concept and will continue to examine all options to assist with the recruitment of new staff and the retention of our existing workforce.”