An additional 1,722 nurses must be recruited to fill existing vacancies within the health system, according to figures from the country's largest nursing organisation.
The Irish Nursing and Midwives Organisation's Director of Industrial Relations this morning told its Annual Delegate Conference in the INEC, Killarney that the INMO disputes the last government's claims that it has recruited 1,000 new nurses.
Phil Ni Sheaghda said that two thirds of nursing appointments are existing staff moving within the public service and are not new recruits.
"The acute hospitals division tells us that of the entire number that they manage to recruit, 66% of them are already public servants. They are either working in a voluntary hospital or somewhere else within the system," Ms Ni Sheaghda said.
She said that the problems with staffing levels are exacerbated by the system's inability to retain nurses. Figures from the acute hospital division show that were 74 fewer staff nurses working in February 2016 compared to December 2014.
Ms Ni Sheaghda said that a 'snapshot' taken last September showed that while there were 1,624 nurses due to start a new job, 1,287 were leaving their existing role.
She said that with agency figures taken into account, there are 1,272 nursing vacancies that should be filled. That figure rises to 1,722 when a new maternity agreement, which aims to have one midwife for every 29.5 births, is considered.
INMO General Secretary Liam Doran described the figures as 'shocking'.
"The total and utter misleading by government and senior public servants about recruitment in nursing has been blown out of the water today," Mr Doran said.
Meanwhile the INMO has called on the government to adopt a 'zero tolerance' approach to anyone who verbally or physically abuses a nurse.
Delegates heard of one Cork nurse who has not worked for two years having been assaulted by a patient.
Margaret Frahill of the INMO Executive Council told delegates this morning that the nurse suffered head and neck injuries after she was pushed over by a female patient.
"This nurse has suffered greatly, is in constant pain, and is having weekly reviews with a physiotherapist and pain specialist. The nurse has not worked since and is not likely to work again for a very long time.
"She is married with children and her life has changed totally, and so has her family's. The only support available to this nurse now is to fight for her rights and entitlement through the civil courts," Ms Frahill said.
Delegate Martin O'Cealleagh highlighted legislation in Australia that sentences anyone found guilty of assaulting a nurse to up to 14 years in prison.
There was a unanimous show of hands from the floor when Mr O'Cealleagh asked how many delegates had experienced verbal or physical assault in the workplace, but less than half kept their arms raised when asked if they either reported the incident know how to go about doing so.
"We don't have the knowledge base to appropriately address the violence being directed at us. We need that support and those structures in place," Mr O'Cealleagh said