Why it’s healthier to just go

Irish nurses have been tempted by higher wages and less stress in Australia, says Claire Droney

ANNE CLANCY hasn’t been home to Ireland since 2009. In the heat of an Australian summer, she daydreams about an Irish winter.

“The temperature at the moment is pretty much killing me. In 45°C, I dream of snow, and imagine lying in the snow outside. Especially when I’m on my third shower of the day,” she says.

The 27-year-old Irish nurse has been living in Emerald, a rural mining town in central Queensland, Australia, for the past 18 months. Working as a clinical nurse on a Mental Health Community Team, she currently earns $80,000 (€63,248) per annum, works Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm, and doesn’t work weekends. And her employer, Queensland Health, will pay for her to complete a MA degree whenever she is ready.

“I’ve never been one who wanted to travel the world but the driving force for me was work. It’s hard over here but it’s the best decision I ever made. Especially when I hear how tough things are at home,” says Clancy, who graduated as a nurse from Dundalk IT in 2008, and moved to Brisbane a year later, after her work as an agency nurse began to wane.

‘There’s heaps of work here in nursing, if you’re willing to work hard. In the cities, I could’ve worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week. We’re so well qualified in Ireland, especially in mental health. As soon as they hear you’re Irish-trained, they want you,” says Clancy.

“I’d never have got this job as a clinical nurse in Ireland. I was a staff nurse when I came over and I jumped up a level.

“After spending four years training as psychiatric nurses, a lot of my friends in Ireland are now working in nursing homes. Here in Australia, they could be getting lots of experience across the board.”

At the weekend, Clancy drives three hours to the coast with her Australian fiancé. “The lifestyle is good here. At the coast, you look at the white sands, blue skies and the cleanest water you’ve ever seen, and you think, this is why I’m here.”

Director of Irish-based recruitment agency, ICE Group, Margaret Cox, travelled to Australia this month to secure new tenders for nursing recruitment in New South Wales (NSW). At a recent round of interviews in Dublin, 42 Irish nurses secured mental health nurse and midwife jobs in NSW.

“Irish nurses are very professional, caring and kind. They are very valued, more so than any other nurses that might have been trained in a different country,” says Cox.

With a change to nurse-patient ratios in New South Wales, there is an ongoing nursing shortage and ongoing vacancies there, says Cox. Some hospitals are even willing to place people immediately over the phone or Skype.

In Ireland, the options are less expansive. A newly qualified nurse has four choices — join the much-maligned new graduate initiative and work for a reduced salary; do agency work covering maternity or sick leaves; apply for one of the 1,000 positions currently available in Irish nursing homes; or emigrate.

In 2011, An Bord Altranais, the Irish nursing board, received over 2,000 requests from nurses for verifications of qualifications to work overseas. The INMO union claims that three quarters of new Irish nursing graduates will be forced to emigrate.

“Emigration is a forced option because no-one wants to accept the graduate scheme, where the €22,000 salary is a joke,” says INMO student officer, Dara Ann O’Malley, who says that the UK is the top choice for Irish nurses, followed by Australia and Canada. “With this, graduate nurses would be the lowest-paid, fully qualified health-care workers within the hospital.”

In the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, one in every 10 nurses is Irish. The hospital has recruited over 100 Irish nurses over the past two years, and is currently seeking another 30 Irish nurses.

Sandra Ryan, a 2012 nursing graduate who plans to emigrate to Liverpool this year, says 35 out of 46 of her fellow graduates have already left the country.

Mother-of-two Michelle Roche, 37, is looking forward to a €15,000 pay rise when she begins her new job in a Queensland hospital this month. Currently working as a psychiatric nurse in a high support hospital, Roche says recent pay cuts and taxes mean she can no longer afford to support her family. “We wouldn’t be able to live here by the end of the year. It’s time for us to desert the sinking ship,” says Roche.

Noreen Murray, 51, encourages new graduates to take their chances Down Under, but warns that the cost of living in Australia is high. A midwifery unit manager, she moved from West Cork to Sydney 26 years ago.

“Utility bills have gone up a lot, food is expensive and property and rent are expensive. A 3-bed apartment in Sydney could cost $400 [€230] per week, depending on the area.”

Murray is paid for 37.5 out of 40 hours per week, but has a long weekend once a month.

‘There are no 12-hour night shifts, here we do four 10-hour nights. It’s healthier and that 2½ hours makes an awful difference,’ says Murray, who recently travelled to Ireland to recruit 14 midwives for her hospital.

Anne Clancy also points out that Australia isn’t perfect. “It’s easy to talk about white sandy beaches but there’s a reality to it too. The first year here is like a hobo lifestyle, travelling around, and it’s very hard, expensive and time-consuming to get settled here. But there are less hard days now, and less days when I want to go home,” says Clancy.

“My advice is not to do agency work, but to get casual work by just walking into hospitals with your CV. Otherwise you’re stuck with an agency and you have to pay your way out of your contract when you get a permanent job.”

Although Clancy will return to Ireland for a holiday in May, she plans to settle permanently in Australia. “I’m in a really good job here for the last 1½ years and it’s not something I’m willing to give up. I’d love to buy a house in Ireland and come back for a few months every year.”

NURSING GRADUATES: SALARIES HOME AND AWAY

IRELAND: €21,768 (proposed)
IRELAND: €26,400 (former rate)
UK: €25,572 LONDON: €33,083
CANADA: €43,614
AUSTRALIA: €38,688

Picture: Mother-of-two Michelle Roche, pictured here with her 2½-year-old daughter Ela, is joining the Irish exodus of nurses to Australia.

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