Union slams JobBridge-style nurse proposal

Plans to employ graduate nurses in hospitals under a JobBridge-style scheme to cut costs are being considered by the Government.

Health Minister James Reilly revealed the move at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, with officials later confirming it could be in place as early as 2014.

The move, which is being discussed by Dr Reilly and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin, has been suggested to help cut agency costs and increase hospital nurse numbers.

Dr Reilly’s chief spokes-person later confirmed this scheme will mirror the wider JobBridge programme championed by Government, and is “aimed” to be in place next year.

The wider scheme has sparked support and outrage in equal measure for the way it provides graduates with lengthy placements on lower pay than other workers.

Under Dr Reilly’s plan, new nursing graduates will form a “nursing bank” and “secure work by way of contract” with a “level of flexibility in deployment”, Dr Reilly’s chief spokesperson said. No pay levels have been decided.

However, the plan has provoked a furious reaction from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), which said it would oppose the move.

Dr Reily said: “We’re in talks with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on a nursing bank, sort of a JobBridge programme.

“Agency nurses are very fine people, but the reality is you can’t train them up in a particular speciality.”

A Department of Health spokesman said that while the policy was “not being considered for Budget 2013” it would be “developed in discussions and negotiations next year”. He said it was “not possible at this stage” to clarify how much money could be saved or how many nursing posts the policy could create.

It is understood any discussion of such a move has taken place at senior levels within both departments, with few officials made aware of the potential move before yesterday.

The scheme could be used to tackle runaway [url=http://www.irishexaminer.com/archives/2012/1127/world/hse-falls-short-of-costs-target-for-agency-staff-215203.html] agency nurse cost, help address staffing problems, and reduce the number of nursing graduates emigrating.

Liam Doran, INMO’s secretary general, said: “We will not be agreeing to any such proposal. We have had informal talks with the minister about employing graduates, but that is based on paying them the same amount as other colleagues.

“JobBridge was never discussed, and we are emphatic that if and when this happens the Department will be required to pay these nurses the full amount.”

Meanwhile, Dr Reilly and the HSE has questioned an INMO study on nurse levels. The HSE said the comparison with the NHS in Britain — which has an average of six nurses more per ward — is unfair.

The minister said it was important to note the average nurse’s salary in Britain was €44,000 compared to €55,000 in Ireland. Mr Doran said this is “a misguided reply that suggests staffing is based on pay rates”.

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