Shortage of nurses affecting major hospitals


The State is facing a shortage of nurses, with major acute hospitals in Dublin and psychiatric hospitals throughout the country likely to be particularly affected.

At least one Dublin hospital, the Mater, has had to delay reopening an 18-bed day ward, partly because of its inability to recruit staff. Other acute hospitals in the city say they are having difficulty maintaining staffing levels.

A spokeswoman for the Eastern Health Board says staffing levels in hospitals and long-stay institutions are adequate at present. "But we are finding difficulty filling places, and there is a significant drop in the number of applications for posts."

Further confirmation of the shortages comes from the Alliance Nursing Agency, the largest supplier of casual nursing staff to hospitals. "The demands placed on us have gone through the roof," an agency spokesman said.

The general secretary of the Irish Nurses' Organisation, Mr P.J. Madden, attributes the shortages in large part to changes in student nursing training. In the past, up to 50 per cent of ward staff at teaching hospitals were students. Now that courses are college-based these students are no longer available. Mr Madden also believes nurses are leaving the profession in increasing numbers for other jobs, or are emigrating to Britain, where promotion prospects are better.

The situation in psychiatric nursing is even worse, according to SIPTU nursing official, Mr Noel Dowling. He says that half of those initially offered student places this year declined them. Unsuccessful applicants were then hurriedly offered places.

News of the nursing shortage comes as the Commission on Nursing is about to issue its interim report. Details of the report have not been disclosed, but it is expected to refer to continuing low morale in the profession, the prevalence of bullying, inadequate opportunities for promotion and lack of recognition for additional relevant qualifications.

The Department of Health says it is up to local health managers to ensure adequate staffing. Extra funding has been put in place to pay for this, it says. The problem appears to be that trained nurses are just not available to fill the posts.

Hospitals say they cannot recruit enough staff nurses, partly because there are fewer casual workers available as a consequence of up to 4,000 part-time nurses being made permanent.

Mr Madden predicts that the nursing shortage will last three to five years. Even when the new student nurses begin to come on stream, he says, shortages could continue because the annual intake of students is being cut back to about 70 per cent of the prediploma system.