Ireland will face "even more severe" staffing pressures in the health service if the number of nursing and midwifery undergraduate places are not increased, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has warned.
The call comes on International Day of the Nurse, a day to celebrate the conribution of those working in the profession.
Of the 3,700 nurses and midwives who joined the nursing and midwifery register in Ireland last year, 13 per cent had trained elsewhere in the EU, with nearly half – 1,189 – having trained outside of the EU, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO)
The organisation warns the global pandemic means a likely drop in overseas recruitment, resulting in extra pressures in nursing and midwifery staffing in coming years.
To combat this, the union is calling for an urgent increase in the number of undergraduate nursing and midwifery places and a clear message that a moratorium, pause or any other measure to slow down recruitment cannot be countenanced.
There are roughly 1,800 spaces on nursing and midwifery courses available each year. In 2019, 5,324 students put nursing or midwifery as their first-preference choice in the CAO.
Phil Ní Sheaghdha, INMO general secretary, said they are “deeply humbled by the strong public support” of its members.
“We must ensure that frontline staff are given the support and resources they need to do their job. To provide safe care, we need to build up our staffing levels,” she said.
“Ireland must continue to recruit staff from around the world but also to train more ourselves. We train far fewer nurses and midwives than we need, but we know that thousands more want to join the nursing family.”
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said the new government can increase undergraduate places and that the parties negotiating to form a government will also need to look at structure and retention.
“We’re saying to government – this isn’t something that can wait or else we’re going to be in serious trouble this winter,” she told Newstalk Breakfast.
“Every winter there is pressure on the health service with normal illnesses, that’s not going to change, but it also looks like we’re going to be running two services.”
Hospitals now have two services – Covid and non-Covid, with emergency departments now divided in two – and this meant that more staff would be required, she said.
President Michael D Higgins has commended nurses and said their work "is often invaluable".
“Theirs is a fundamental role, and currently it is a critical role, as countries around the world are dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic crisis and its tragic consequences,” said Mr Higgins.
“There can be no doubt that working in a profession such as nursing brings profound responsibilities, and is demanding physically, intellectually and emotionally. To embark on such a career requires certain qualities in order for it to be a fulfilling and enriching experience for both patient and professional.”
He said it is a role people choose to fill because the have “the strength of character, the compassion and the commitment to make such a positive contribution to society”.
The President said: “Having a career in which you use your knowledge and skills to relieve a person’s suffering is such a positive contribution to make, and one we have come to appreciate more fully in recent times.”
The Day of the Nurse also falls on the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale, known as the founder of modern nursing.