The processing of registrations by nurses and midwives is taking months rather than weeks, with 35% of applications in the system for more than 12 months, the Joint Committee on Health and Children has been told.
An increase in applications, reduced staffing levels and a reduction in funding are factors contributing to an unforeseen delay in the registrations, according to Chief Executive Officer of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland Dr Maura Pidgeon.
She told the committee that 974 applications for registration by nurses here and overseas were made between January and June of this year, up from 302 for the same period of last year.
Of these 473 applicants have received decisions - 43 have been refused; 55 require further information; and 45 have been recommended for registration.
The committee also heard that there are a total of 2,016 applications, including renewals and 818 from EU member states, being processed of which 35% have been in the system for more than 12 months.
Dr Pidgeon said the main backlog is in the initial processing of applications, which is now taking months instead of weeks.
She said the delays had come about as a result of unforseen and exceptional circumstances that are being currently addressed.
The committee was told that a reduction in funding had created uncertainty within the organisation, which is self-funding with some contribution from the Health Service Executive and Department of Health.
Dr Pidgeon said 11 of the organisation's 51 staff had left in the first six months of this year, a 23% reduction in its workforce.
She said a recruitment process was in hand, including the use of the Public Appointments Service, and three of the staff had been replaced on a temporary basis and it's hoped to fill some of the other vacancies by the end of this month.
Dr Pidgeon said agreement by the board on a revised spending plan had helped in the recruitment process as well as the provision for three additional posts by the Department of Health.
She also said the board was looking to develop its website to set up an online system so that an applicant can monitor progress using a personal identification number.
Dr Pigeon said that in addition to addressing the backlog the board wanted to work with employers to help applicants fill out the forms, which she said were complex.
She said they have also identified an internal manager to deal with overseas applications.
The Nursing and Midwifery Board has engaged in a collaborative process with the HSE, independent hospitals, midwifery boards and HR experts and it has looked at its funding, she said and they would get the situation under manageable control.
Dr Pidgeon could not yet identify a target date for when the backlog would be cleared but she pointed out that the additional staff will be in place by the end of the month and it was hoped to have a clearer picture by August.
She said the focus was to clear the backlog in assessing applications and to look at its own demands.
The committee was told that there are 62,000 nurses on a live register and 20,000 others on an inactive register, which includes those who may have retired or who are working abroad.
There are 1,500 students in nursing training in the Irish educational system and the board does not have data for their retention in the Irish workforce once they register.