Irish Nursing Shortage Continues

Nurse- Photo credit
Nurse- Photo credit John Greenwood (Flickr)

“Immigration is necessary, 80 percent of her class from last year is in the UK, the Irish system is unfixable.”


The Budget in 2017 has highlighted again that the nursing situation in Ireland is still in crisis. Minister for Health Simon Harris has promised that an additional 1,000 nurses will be recruited using significantly increased funding for the health service. Liam Doran, the general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, said it needs to be clarified how many of these 1,000 jobs are supplementary and what proportion are just a conversion from agency posts. Hospitals are currently spending €4m a month on agency workers because of the crisis in staffing.  “There are 675 jobs every day filled by an agency. Converting them to full-time posts would be a very good thing to do.”But it won’t yield extra manpower on the wards, it  won’t address the staff shortages,” he said.

Hands Off Our NHS - 4 March 2017


The INMO has called for immediate action on pay and employment shortages. According to INMO President, Martina Harkin-Kelly,” The Executive Council of this Organisation has heard the call from members, right across the country, that they have had enough and want the Organisation to initiate whatever strategies are necessary to secure accelerated pay restoration and greatly improved staffing levels. The intolerable stress levels, being encountered by our members, cannot be ignored any longer.  The health and safety of our members are being compromised, on a daily basis, as a direct result of work-related factors which are being ignored by health employers.  We will not accept this any longer.”

Irish nurses and midwives are emigrating for better pay, professional development, shorter working weeks, and to avoid the difficult working conditions in Ireland caused by a lack of beds and staff.  As the population ages, demand for health care services is soaring, this shortage has worrying implications for patients and healthcare providers as the strain on the already stressed system attempts to cope.

Nursing in Ireland

The recruitment embargo introduced by the HSE in 2008 grew a culture of no jobs in healthcare for the 1,500 plus nurses graduating each year. According to the Nursing and Midwifery board of Ireland (NMBI) in 2008, there were 1,918 Irish nurse’s registration certificates issued.  In 2010, there were only 1,466 registered nurses. Over the past six years, there has been a steady incline, with figures from 2015 indicating that there were 1,760 nurses on the live register. According to the NMBI, findings on the intentions of Ireland’s nurses to emigrate can be gleaned from an analysis of the verification requests lodged with them. In 2008, verification requests were received on behalf of 1,547 Irish nurses, with a further 995 received in 2009, 1,102 in 2010, and 1,334 in 2011.  There was a surge in 2013 with 1,384 applications, 2014 had a decline of 991 requests and 2015 numbers reduced to 843, to date only 770 have applied.  Further proof of the growing crisis is the latest staff census figures, from the HSE, which confirms that, at the end of July, there is 309 fewer staff nurses and 41 less public health nurses.

Nursing in Ireland launh

Ireland has more nurses for our population size than other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. The information shows that Ireland has an average of 12 nurses per 1,000 people, compared with the OECD average of 9. Liam Doran has said the numbers do not reflect the actual situation where hospitals are struggling to fill nursing posts. The numbers were gathered from the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland’s data on professionally active nurses, along with details from the Central Statistics’ Office Quarterly National Household Survey. “The reality is on the front line we are short nurses and midwives and employers are trying to fill that gap but they are failing to date because the terms and conditions in Ireland are not sufficiently attractive, they are not competitive with the UK and other countries.” According to Professor Seamus Cowman, Professor of Nursing at the Royal College of Surgeons, “The understanding of those graduates was that the employment opportunities would be available following graduation and the reality was that no employment opportunities were made available and so recruitment agencies came to Ireland and recruited graduating nurses en mass.”

Work in Ireland

At the most recent Health Sector Jobs Fair in the RDS, Dublin, there were over 50 exhibitors from the UK, Canada, and Australia competing for staff against the Irish hospitals.  This comes at a time when the INMO have described the nursing professions morale at an all-time low.

Many International competitors were offering job interviews on the spot.  One of the attending nurses’s commented that “immigration is necessary, 80 percent of her class from last year is in the UK, the Irish system is unfixable.”

The HSE introduced a scheme in July 2015 to encourage Irish nurses and midwives working in the UK and further afield to return home and take up posts in the public health service here. However, only approximately 90 of the proposed 500 positions have been recruited as part of the campaign, according to the INMO.  One reason according to Niamh Russell, who is working in the UK, “there is no competition- the NHS is offering up to €10,000 and two days paid leave, whereas the HSE are offering €1500 relocation package. There are plenty of professional development opportunities to progress in the UK.”

According to Liam Doran of the INMO, the UK has 600,000 nursing posts; Ireland have 35,000 working within the HSE, but there is a shortfall of 4000 staff.  About 800 nurses and midwives retire annually.  “Nursing is an international profession and nurses, in particular, Irish nurses can obtain employment anywhere in the world, and in business world parlance, nurses would be regarded as a scarce commodity with a premium value.”


Speaking with the Irish Independent, one of the top UK executives Brid Johnson, a native of Nenagh in Tipperary who is now with the North East London NHS Foundation Trust said: “I had to leave Ireland as there was a strict number of places in nursing colleges in Ireland. I received my nursing training in Essex, England, and worked my way up through the ranks.” She added that  “Irish nurses are great, they are seen to adapt well, highly skilled nurses.”

Stephen McLarnon, CEO of Health Sector Jobs, a leading provider of healthcare recruitment solutions in Ireland and the UK, who hosted the fair in the RDS said: “The biggest issue is not the pay, it is respect, if you pay the staff the best, you will then have the best healthcare service.”

The worldwide nursing shortages and ageing workforce highlight the importance of improving recruitment and retention of nurses within the health care system.The analysis of the results will make bleak reading for current members of the nursing profession who are constantly reporting growing staff shortages in their care settings.The World Health Organisation in 2006 reported a shortage of 4.3 million healthcare workers globally and estimated this figure would increase by 20 percent over the next two decades.







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