Dáil Éireann - Volume 552 - 24 April, 2002

Written Answers. - Nursing Staff.

[1229]   65. Mr. G. Reynolds asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps he is taking to increase the supply of nurses to hospitals. [12586/02]

  113. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the extent to which the number of nurses is adequate to meet requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12774/02]

  Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): I propose to take Questions Nos. 65 and 113 together.

  The Health Service Employers Agency, HSEA, undertook a survey of nursing vacancies at 31 January 2002. A copy of this survey will be forwarded directly to the Deputies.

  While all sectors reported that recruitment was well ahead of resignations-retirement, employers reported that 1,089 vacancies existed at 31 January 2002. These circumstances arise where the volume of additional nursing posts being created outstrips capacity to recruit. The combination of utilising agency nurses and overtime working provides the equivalent of around 1,270 full-time nurses to the service to cope with difficulties arising in the provision of services while employers continue the recruitment process to fill vacancies.

  A major recruitment and retention initiative, costing in excess of €6.35 million, was launched by me on 29 November 2000 to address the present shortage of nurses and midwives. In particular, a scheme of flexible working arrangements for nurses and midwives in the public health service came into operation on 1 February 2001. Under the scheme, individual nurses and midwives may apply to work between eight and 39 hours per week on a permanent, part-time basis.

  As part of my overall recruitment-retention strategy, I have introduced the following: financial support for nurses and midwives undertaking post-registration educational courses; payment of fees to nurses-midwives undertaking part-time nursing and certain other undergraduate degree courses; improved scheme of financial support for student public health nurses; enhanced financial support package for student midwives and student paediatric nurses; payment of fees and enhanced salary to nurses-midwives undertaking courses in specialised areas of clinical practice; abolition of fees for “back-to-practice” courses and payment of salary to nurses-midwives undertaking such courses; and financial support to State-enrolled nurses, SENs, working in the Irish health service wishing to undertake nursing conversion programmes in the United Kingdom.

  The ongoing recruitment of nurses from abroad is also impacting positively on the vacancy situation. A total of 2,719 working visas-work authorisations were issued to nurses from non-EU countries between June 2000 and January 2002.

[1230]   My Department is also engaged in strategic planning through the study of the nursing and midwifery resource. The focus of this work is on longer term planning. The primary objective of the study is to forecast, as far as is possible, future nursing and midwifery workforce needs. An interim report was published in October 2000 and widely circulated within the health services. The final report is due to be published in June 2002.

  On 1 November 2001, I launched the new four-year undergraduate pre-registration nursing degree programme which will commence for the academic year 2002-03.

  The new nursing degree programme, to replace the current three-year diploma programme, will put the education of nurses on a par with that of other health care professionals. The nursing profession has long been seeking such parity, and the Government's decision implements a central recommendation of the Commission on Nursing. Educating nurses to degree level will enable them to develop their clinical skills to a greater extent and to respond to future challenges in health care, for the benefit of patients and client groups.

  The Government has approved a capital building programme totalling €223.5 million for the construction of facilities to accommodate nursing students at 13 higher education institutions throughout the country. This programme is due to be completed by September 2004.

  A total of 1,640 places nationally will be available on the degree programme as follows:

General

1,057

Psychiatry

  343

Mental Handicap

  240

I also announced a new sponsorship scheme for certain categories of experienced health service employees wishing to train as nurses. Up to 40 sponsorships will be available annually. Successful applicants will be allowed to retain their salary during the four years of the degree programme.