Majority of 1,600 nursing graduates forced to work abroad, says union

 

IT IS a national scandal that most of the 1,600 nurses graduating this year are being forced to emigrate to get full-time jobs, the largest nursing union in the State has said.

President of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation Sheila Dickson said yesterday that the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) was recruiting “whole classes of graduating nurses”, just a few years after the Irish health service had to go abroad to recruit nurses to staff the Irish health service.

About 12,000 nurses from the Philippines, India and elsewhere were recruited to work in Ireland – at an estimated cost of more than €7,500 a head – since 2001.

The shortages at that time, according to union general secretary Liam Doran, were as a result of past mistakes when Irish nurses were also forced to go abroad for work. Now, the recruitment embargo – despite there being a shortage of nurses on wards resulting in bed closures – meant nurses had to go abroad again. He estimates that since January 2008 almost 2,000 have left.

“What is going on is absolute madness. It’s short-sighted. It’s flawed,” he said.

In 2006, due to a shortage of midwives in the country, a four-year direct-entry degree programme to train midwives was introduced. This fast-tracked training for a group who previously would have had to study for a general nursing degree first, before going on to study midwifery. Ironically, the first graduates of this programme cannot find work either, the organisation said.

Mr Doran urged Minister for Health Mary Harney to implement a “cost neutral” policy recommended by the commission established in 2007 to look at reducing nurses’ hours which would mean each graduating nurse obtaining a two-year internship in the Irish health service. This would allow them consolidate their skills and specialise in a particular area while on a lower salary than other nurses.

The Department of Health last night did not say if the internship programme was still an option. It said it recognised that the employment controls introduced by the Government – which will mean numbers employed in the health service cut by 6,000 by the end of 2012 – have affected newly-qualified nurses obtaining employment.

“However, the only way to ensure we have a sustainable health service in the future is to take firm action now to address the budgetary imbalance,” it said. “Government policy does not guarantee employment . . . that includes nursing and midwifery.”

The HSE did not say how many graduates, if any, would get jobs this year. But director of nursing at Cork University Hospital Dr Mary Boyd has confirmed that all 102 nurses and midwives who graduated in the past year were kept on by her hospital despite the embargo on recruitment.

The HSE said it is not in a position to offer employment – be it a fixed-term, temporary or permanent employment contract – to all graduates and other registered nurses applying for positions due to the recruitment moratorium.

“On an ongoing basis graduates and other registered nurses may avail of the opportunity to seek placement on panels . . . Employment opportunities for graduates as with all other registered nurses will be considered within the context of the recruitment moratorium in the public sector.”

Mr Doran said unless policies are reversed Ireland will return to having nursing shortages in a few years time as up 20 per cent of the nursing workforce is in the 50-59 age group and will be retiring in the not too distant future. Up to 1,000 nurses and midwives will be eligible to retire next year.

Treatment or cure? Nursing in numbers

12,000

The number of overseas nurses who have been recruited to work in the health service since 2001.

Additional nurses and midwives began to be trained in Ireland in recent years in an attempt to make up the shortfall

€90,000

The cost to the taxpayer of training each nurse on a four-year degree programme.

1,600

The number of nursing/midwifery graduates this year. The INMO believes most of the graduates will have to emigrate because of the embargo on recruitment

1,000

The number of nurses/midwives in the health service who are eligible to retire in 2011. Some 20 per cent of the current nursing/midwifery workforce is in the 50-59 age bracket. This could lead to nurse shortages in Ireland in the future. Source INMO