The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has written to the Health Service Executive expressing concern over the way it appears to be interpreting the Haddington Road Agreement with regard to the new graduate nurse programme.

Under the programme, there are to be 1,000 places in a graduate nurse programme commencing in September.

INMO General Secretary Liam Doran said that the 1,000 places "are in addition to" the normal nursing and midwifery places that arise due to vacancies.

He said he was concerned that arising from a HSE circular on 15 July the HSE may be taking the view that the 1,000 graduate nurse programme places are the only vacancies on offer and that graduates are being told this.

The INMO has written to the HSE on the issue.

The Haddington Road Agreement provides for a two-year graduate nurse programme.

The pay is 85% of the staff nurse starting pay for the first year and 90% in the second year.

Graduate nurses entering the programme will continue their education with an educational component at certificate level.

In a joint statement with the INMO, the Psychiatric Nurses Association criticised the HSE for an overt attempt to force students and newly-qualified nurses and midwives into "their low pay" graduate scheme.

The HSE said it has recently approved the recruitment of 1,000 graduate nurses consistent with the Haddington Road Agreement.

It is doing so in the knowledge that approximately 1,650 nurses will shortly graduate and will be available for these places.

In the first instance, it said management is required to reduce agency and overtime costs and this programme offers the ideal opportunity to contribute to the overall savings target for health, as set out in the agreement.

At the same time the HSE is also required to reduce its overall headcount as instructed by Government.

As the graduate nurse scheme is outside of the Employment Control Framework there is some scope to reduce the overall Public Service numbers and continue to deliver safe and quality services.

It said priority posts continue to be filled as they arise.