The HSE has announced that there are approximately four nursing jobs available to each Irish nursing graduate.
While there has been significant attention brought recently to the often dire conditions that student nurses are forced to work within regarding exploitative working hours and insufficient wages, there is some solace available to them in the number of positions available to those who are graduating.
There are shortages in staffing across the board but the departments that are worst affected are intensive care units and operating theatres. The HSE is attempting to alleviate shortages in staffing with the help of private agency staff, spending some €800,000 a day on agency nursing and doctoring staff. However, in relation to the cost of agency workers the HSE has said that it is approximately 20% less expensive to have these positions covered by full-time employees.
Liam Woods, the HSE Director of Acute Operations, acknowledged that it will always be necessary to have the HSE workforce bolstered by temporary staff on account of unforeseen absences and maternity leave etc. there are currently far too many positions being covered by agency staff that should be covered by full-time nurses.
Mr Woods, while speaking to The Irish Times, identified that staff retention and recruitment was an issue for the HSE. Many nurses upon graduating seek employment overseas with the favourable employment opportunities offered in both Canada and Australia making both of these prime destinations for Irish nursing graduates. As such, for this staffing shortfall to be closed it is imperative that the HSE seeks to redress issues both in recruitment and indeed in its placement programmes. It is surely foolish and unreasonable to expect that placing Irish nursing students under such duress during their obligated placements would do anything other than build resentment toward the organisation that is hoping to eventually employ them. As such, if the HSE is looking to redress this shortfall it needs to both look at the opportunities afforded to graduates as well as the journey the majority of Irish nurses have to take before they're eligible for employment.
Independent Galway West TD Catherine Connolly even described to Mr Woods in front of an Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee that two operating theatres in Merlin Park Hospital and a ward in the University Hospital Galway are closed because of insufficient staff numbers.
When Mr Woods was pressed on whether the current situation constituted a crisis he responded, "Yes".
In response to the criticism that has been leveled at the HSE with regard to the opportunities offered to graduates and the treatment of student nurses the HSE has said that it is offering all graduating nurses and midwives full-time contracts as well looking at improving the conditions of student nurses. In conjunction with these efforts they have also created a 'Bring Them Home' initiative in a bid to lure back emigrated graduates.