Over 1,000 posts are unfilled in the Dublin area and matrons in hospitals all over the State are unable to find nursing staff, according to Mr Liam Doran, INO deputy general secretary. One Dublin hospital currently has 46 nursing vacancies.
Speaking on the first day of the union’s annual delegate conference, Mr Doran warned the shortage was resulting in unskilled people being employed in the health services.
“Some matrons are saying already that they are in an acute crisis situation and there is difficulty in maintaining standards.”
A further indication of the problem, he said, was that the Eastern Health Board had just contacted the INO about negotiating the establishment up of a “bank” of nurses for all Dublin hospitals whereby nurses would be paid for doing extra shifts as well as their regular hours to make up the shortfall.
“This is a tacit recognition by employers that they simply cannot get staff, including nurses for theatre, intensive care and accident and emergency. But nurses are already over-stressed and burnt out from the hours they are doing and a measure such as this is simply papering over the cracks,” said Mr Doran.
He said every hospital was having problems and recruitment drives were taking place abroad. There was also a huge unmet demand for nurses for job-share positions, and permanent part-time workers.
There have never been enough Irish nurses “trained and retained in the system”, and this problem has been compounded by the introduction of the new diploma programme for student nurses which takes students away from clinical duties on hospital wards.
It was introduced nationally last year. “Any surplus that was there has now been fully absorbed.”
Mr Doran said that over the years the Department of Health, has had a “placid, docile approach to nurse recruitment and they felt nurses would always be there”.
But he said over the next five years something radical needed to be done to address the manpower situation in hospitals.
Ms Annette Kennedy, director of the INO professional training development centre, told delegates the shortage was in all areas, but particularly in major training hospitals, specialist areas and facilities for the elderly.
Speaking about the drop in the intake of students being trained as nurses, Ms Kennedy said that 1,133 students were taken in 1989, compared to fewer than 800 this year.
She said if students on the new diploma nursing course take the option of carrying on to do a fourth year to obtain a degree, “the health service will be left without any newly qualified nurses for one year every fourth year”. She also said that half of those students, when qualified, were likely to opt for jobs outside nursing.
She called on the Department of Health to launch a major campaign to retain nurses, including those newly qualified nurses in the hospital service through incentives.
The conference heard a call for nurses to be supplied with walkietalkies, personal alarms and strategically placed panic buttons because of increasing risk to their personal safety.
Ms Mary Hayes, who works in Baltinglass Geriatric Hospital, said nurses felt unsafe. She called for a national policy on security in hospitals. She said there had been a number of incidents in the hospital where she works. To date there had been no confrontations with staff but Ms Hayes said it may only be a matter of time.
In one busy hospital security guards were placed but only following a violent incident where a glass entrance panel in the reception area was kicked in.