Newly Qualified Nurses and Midwives forced to emigrate again – A National Scandal

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), following a nationwide survey, has established that most of this year’s 1,600 new nursing/midwifery graduates have either left or will leave this country in the next two months.

The majority of these graduates are moving to England to start their careers with many of them getting their air fare, first month’s accommodation and a post-graduate course of their choice paid for. At home those who are not in a position to travel at best face minimal locum work, or the dole queue, having spent 4 years training to degree level at a cost of €90,000 each to the taxpayer.

This mass exodus of skilled health professionals is simply repeating the mistakes of the late 1990’s when previous generations of nurses were also forced to emigrate to practice their profession and treat people in the front line of health services.

In response to this, beginning in 2001, 12,000 non-Irish trained nurses were recruited from overseas, at considerable cost to the exchequer, from places like India and the Philippines to replace these Irish nurses who had emigrated earlier because of lack of job opportunities. It is now recognised that there is a worldwide shortage of nurses and countries such as England, America, Canada and Australia are actively recruiting our nurses/midwives and some are even offering them posts before they have finished their final year.

Against this stark reality Ireland must, with regard to workforce planning, continue to educate, and retain, sufficient numbers of Irish nurses and midwives to meet our own requirements for the next 10 to 15 years. This will be necessary to develop the type of nurse/midwife led services needed to reform our health service, increase its productivity while maintaining safe care to patients.

However the current reality is that the Irish health service is facing meltdown. Despite all of the repeated assurances, from both the political system and senior health service management, frontline posts have not been protected in recent years and, in fact, have been specifically targeted for curtailment and cutbacks. The following statistics bear out the flawed, contradictory and damaging facts which have emerged in recent years:

1,900 nursing/midwifery jobs have been lost in the last 2½ years (HSE figures);

Up to 1,000 nurses/midwives are eligible to retire in 2011 and these will not be replaced under current HR policies;

20% of the current nursing/midwifery workforce is in the 50-59 age bracket

§ the current average retirement age of a nurse is 57.9 years and the average

amount of service is 24.7 years;

Health service management’s current approach to managing their budgets is to specifically cut back on frontline posts, including temporary nurses.

This short-sighted approach, if continued into the future, will further exacerbate the existing shortage of nursing/midwifery posts in this country. The INMO will also take this opportunity to again dismiss, as simply wrong, the concept that Ireland has too many nurses as compared to other OECD countries. Time and again the Department of Health itself, together with other studies, has shown that Ireland is in the mid range of nurses to population, in OECD countries, at 10.8 nurses per 1000, and this fails to acknowledge the ageing profile of the Irish nursing populous.

There is however a cost neutral solution which would keep our new graduates in the country and fill the gaps left by retirees. The Commission on Nursing Hours, set up and independently chaired, following our campaign of action in 2007, presented to the Minister for Health an “innovative” method of dealing with the problem of emigration while at the same time reducing the working hours of nurses/midwives.

This would be done by the introduction of a two-year graduate nursing programme, to be given to all graduate nurses immediately upon registering as a nurse/midwife. It would see all nurses working a 35 hour week (similar to other health professionals), retired nurses being replaced, a guarantee of two years’ employment for graduates and an opportunity for them to consolidate their clinical skills. A new, lower, salary for the two-year duration of this graduate nursing programme (85% of the minimum of the current staff nurse scale) would be paid.

Unfortunately we are still waiting for the Minister for Health, Ms Mary Harney T.D. and the HSE to respond to this report.

Speaking today, INMO General Secretary, Liam Doran said:

“The numbers of newly graduating nurses/midwives leaving this country is a terrible indictment of our ability to plan for the future, learn from our mistakes of the past and to ensure that we have a supply of Irish nurses and midwives to staff our health services in the years to come.

The reality is that we have over 1,600 nurses/midwives, graduating with an honours degree, this year, none of whom are being offered permanent full-time posts in our public health service.  A small minority may be offered short-term temporary posts, across the country, but none of them will be in a position to secure permanent employment.  Against this background the UK’s National Health Service is recruiting large numbers of our graduating nurses and midwives across England, Scotland and Wales.

We must, in these very difficult times, strike an equal balance between the legitimate expectations of nurses and midwives and their patients and the overall economic situation facing the health service. However, the current strategy is doomed to failure as it neglects today’s patients, leaves us totally exposed with regard to planning for future needs and ignores the fact that other countries view our newly graduated nurses and midwives as priceless assets rather than a drain on resources.

In conclusion INMO President, Sheila Dickson said:

“It is just soul destroying to see such highly educated young people not being given an opportunity to work in Ireland. There is now a worldwide shortage of nurses and many of our emigrants will build new lives and settle abroad and will be lost to the Irish Health service forever. This is even more frustrating when it is obvious that these new professionals are needed in the Irish health system and that we have provided the Minister with a cost neutral way to hold on to them but she has taken no action on this plan.”

Finally, I would like to ask the Minister for Health where is the bottom line with regard to funding for the health service and the protection of patients. When will this Minister say no to anymore cuts?

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