The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has postponed a decision on whether to recommend acceptance or rejection of the new public service pay agreement amid concerns about inadequate recruitment of additional nurses.
Last April, the Health Service Executive, the INMO and SIPTU agreed a target of 1,208 additional funded nurses to be recruited by the end of December 2017 to plug vacancies across the health service.
However, Assistant General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said that today, the INMO executive voiced frustration at inadequate progress in meeting those targets, and decided to defer a decision on whether to recommend the new pay deal.
She said that the HSE was claiming to have recruited 716 additional nurses by April - 59% of the target of 1,208 for the year.
However, she said that the HSE had included in that calculation 495 student nurses, who did not count as additional funded posts envisaged by the agreement.
The HSE has acknowledged that of the 1,208 additional nurses due to be hired by December under the INMO SIPTU agreement, only 221 were recruited between December and April, just 18% of the target.
The HSE figures are contained in a quarterly update due to be given to Minister for Health Simon Harris today.
At the end of December 2016, the HSE was employing the equivalent of 35,835 full-time nurses - though more individuals would be on the payroll as some are working part-time.
By April, that figure had risen to 36,551.
The number of student nurses more than doubled, from 405 to 900, though each of them only counts as half of a full-time post.
The number of staff nurses rose by 123, and there were an additional 62 directors of nursing, assistant directors of nursing and clinical nurse managers.
The HSE hired an extra 29 clinical nurse/midwife specialists, 21 additional midwives and 17 more advanced nursing and midwifery practitioners.
However the number of public health nurses fell by ten.
The update for Mr Harris states that in the first five months of 2017, expenditure on agency nurses fell by €830,000, representing an approximate conversion of over 44 full-time jobs.
However, it says that the actual conversion rate from agency is much higher than reflected in the cost savings as agency may not yet have been displaced.
It is understood that this trend will not be visible in data until next October.
The target additional recruitment by December 2017 is made up of:
- 96 additional midwives, of whom 21 have been hired
- 123 new emergency department posts with recruitment ongoing
- 75 vacant posts in emergency departments, of which 40 have been filled so far
- Of the 74 acute hospital service development posts, 45 are in place.
- 120 advanced nurse practitioner posts are planned by December, and 17 had been filled by April
The HSE also plans to convert 736 agency posts to permanent positions.
The update also highlights progress made on a number of commitments under HSE/INMO/SIPTU Agreement.
These include delegated authority for directors of nursing on recruitment, the provision of additional undergraduate places, confirmation that permanent contracts will be issued to all undergraduates, targeted recruitment campaigns abroad, and initiatives on skill mix, induction and rehiring of retirees.
In addition, the process of converting agency work to permanent posts is continuing at local level.
At the recent pay talks, the INMO had sought special financial incentives and pay rises for nurses to make the profession more attractive amid staff shortages.
However, the new agreement only allows for a 12-month review of recruitment and retention difficulties across the public sector, with no guarantee of additional pay measures.