A survey has claimed that staffing levels of nurses in hospitals in the Republic of Ireland are well below those in the UK.

The survey was carried out for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.

According to the comparative study, the average 25-bed surgical ward in the Republic has six fewer staff than one in a hospital in Britain.

In the case of a medical ward, a hospital in Ireland has on average 3.5 fewer staff, and that figure jumps to 13.5 when comparing admission and assessment units in the Republic and the UK.

The INMO said hospital staffing in Ireland is not even being compared to a best practice nursing model, adding that UK staffing levels have been shown to compromise care.

In addition, the INMO is releasing a review of international research, which, it says, confirms the link between low nurse staffing levels and poor care, higher patient mortality, and staff burnout.

INMO General Secretary Liam Doran said the research shows that frontline services are not being protected and that the health system is compromising the care of sick and vulnerable people on an increasing basis.

Minister for Health James Reilly has said that he is in talks with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about taking on recently graduated nurses into a "nursing bank situation".

He described it as a sort of" jobBridge situation" but talks would have to take place with the INMO.

The benefit would be to have more nurses who can be trained up to specialist areas in hospital settings.

He was responding to a question about hospitals reliance on agency nurses before the Oireachtas Health Committee.

HSE statement on survey

In a statement on the survey, the Health Service Executive said the HSE and the NHS are not comparable given the scale, size, budget and organisational structure variances.

Despite the moratorium on recruitment, the HSE said there has been an increase in the proportion of frontline staff grades in the Irish public health service (72.65% to 74.66% in the period March 2009 to October 2012).

It said nursing has maintained its proportion of overall staff, and represents 34.19% of acute hospital staffing.

The executive also said that over the last number of years the HSE has significantly expanded service developments that demand an expanded role of nurses and midwives, such as prescribing of medications, X-rays, and intravenous management.

The HSE said the INMO study makes no reference to staffing skill mix - the proportion of nurses to Health Care Assistants - in Ireland, as opposed to the UK.

The statement said every effort has been taken to target areas that do not impact on direct client/patient services, with a view to protecting, in as much as is possible, the most essential frontline services.