Nurse staffing levels in the health service are facing a “cliff edge” in the weeks and months ahead with a potential shortfall of more than 1,500 personnel, their trade union has maintained.
The Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation (INMO) said the recruitment of nurses and midwives from overseas – on which the Irish health system relied heavily – was likely to “slow to a trickle”.
The union said the staffing difficulties could be exacerbated when the number of nurses who are out of work as a result of the Covid-19 was taken into account as well as the additional demand for staff due to the establishment of new health facilities during the current crisis and what it described as the “poor pick-up” from the Government’s “Be On Call For Ireland” recruitment campaign.
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the recruitment embargo over recent years had left the health service in a poor state so there were staffing difficulties even before the pandemic hit.
“Not only are there now greater demands on nurses and midwives, but sources of new staff are likely drying up.”
The INMO said that last year 62 per cent of newly registered nurses and midwives trained outside of Ireland.
“Some of these may be Irish nurses who will return, but many would be international nursing staff. Given Covid-19, it is likely that this migration of nurses and midwives will slow to a trickle. Our nursing workforce is thus heavily dependent on recruiting overseas staff. This leaves Ireland with a potential shortfall of over 1,500 this year alone. This is 4 per cent of the public sector nursing workforce – currently 38,824 whole-time equivalents.”
The INMO said 1,819 or just under 50 per cent of all nurses and midwives who registered for the first time with the regulatory body, the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI), in 2019 had trained outside the EU. It said the figure up to March this year was 72 per cent.
The INMO also said that health service staffing levels were already stretched as a result of the effects of Covid -19.
“The latest figures [up to May 4th] show at least 6,393 healthcare workers have tested Covid-19 positive. This is 29.2 per cent of all Covid-19 cases. This, combined with those who are self-isolating as a precaution, means the already understaffed services are depleted. Previous HSE figures showed that 31 per cent of these healthcare worker cases were nurses, indicating over 1,900 nurses who have tested Covid-19 positive.”
The INMO said it understood the Government’s “Be On Call For Ireland” recruitment campaign had secured 300 applications from nurses which were currently being processed.
“Some are retired nurses willing to work in the short term only and not in the clinical area, instead they would be available for contact tracing. Approximately 30 nurses have started working from this process. Roughly estimating 330 nurses from this scheme (300 processing and 30 working), the scheme will add less than 1 per cent to the nursing workforce.
“Additional work locations have now been introduced into the health services, such as clinical community hubs (20), operating seven days a week with 12 hours a day, with an average four registered nurses on each 12 hour shift and the [HSE] facility at City West averaging 10 [nurses] per day.
“A lack of childcare arrangements and nurses with pre-existing conditions also means that many are not able to attend work.”