Dáil Éireann - Volume 592 - 10 November, 2004

Written Answers. - Hospital Staff.

  150. Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if public hospitals will be allowed to offer incentives and flexibility to nurses in order to retain numbers. [28434/04]

  Ms Harney: The recruitment and retention of adequate numbers of nursing staff has been a concern of this Government for some time. A number of substantial measures have been introduced in recent years which offer incentives and flexibility to nurses.

The Government has invested in nurse training at both undergraduate and post-registration level. The number of nursing training places has been increased by 70% since 1998 to 1,640 from 2002 onwards. Nursing is an attractive career option for school leaver and mature code applicants alike. This is evident from the number of applicants for such courses. For example, there were 8,300 CAO applications for 1,640 places in the autumn 2004 intake. This is most encouraging, given that there is an ever increasing array of attractive alternatives provided by our third level education system. My Department also funds a comprehensive range of financial supports for nurses pursuing part-time degrees and specialist courses, including back-to-practice courses.

The promotional structure within nursing, including the introduction of a clinical career pathway, has been substantially improved on foot of the recommendations of the commission on nursing and the 1999 nurses’ pay settlement. The National Council for the Professional Development of Nursing and Midwifery is charged with establishing guidelines for specialist posts. To date, the council has accredited 1,600 clinical nurse specialists and advanced nurse practitioners.

A further measure to attract nurses into the public system was the introduction of paid overtime in 1998. Previously they had been given time off in lieu and the introduction of payment represents a further significant financial incentive for nurses.

A scheme of flexible working arrangements for nurses and midwives was introduced by my Department in 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. The figure of 33,969 whole-time equivalent nurses working in the health service translates into 40,081 individual nurses. Of these, 9,655 job-share or work other atypical patterns. Thus, almost one quarter of the [540] nursing workforce avails of family friendly work practices.

The recruitment and retention measures introduced by the Government in recent years have led to a substantial increase in the number of nurses working in the health service and a consequent reduction in the number of vacancies. In 1998, there were 26,612 whole-time equivalent nurses employed in the public health system. By the end of June 2004 this figure had reached 33,969. This is an increase of over 7,350 during the period or 27.6%. The vacancy rate of 1.92% at 30 June 2004 compares to a rate of 4.3% at September 2000.

I am confident that the extensive range of measures I have outlined, including the substantial increase in training places, the more effective utilisation of professional skills of nurses and midwives, in addition to the close monitoring and assessment of the situation on an ongoing basis, will continue to prove effective in addressing the nursing workforce needs of the health services.