Doctors, nurses, and midwives have accused the Government of taking an “ostrich approach” to the staffing crisis in hospitals, community and mental health services.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), and the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) said the workforce situation was affecting the delivery of care.

Sustainable recruitment and retention measures were needed because Ireland was competing in a worldwide market for medical staff, they urged.

The unions, who between them represent 50,000 members, said the real test of the future pay talks was whether they are fit for purpose and capable of allowing extraordinary measures to address the staffing issue.

They pointed out, at any one time, there were up to 400 vacant consultant posts — some had been unfilled for years, and there were still 3,200 fewer nurses and midwives than there were in 2008.

The unions, who met yesterday to consider the Public Pay Commission Report, make up a sixth of the public service workforce. They want the Government to ensure there is sufficient flexibility in the talks to deal with the staffing problem.

Afterwards, they said they supported the collective approach of public service unions to seek pay restoration and an end to the requirement of working additional hours.

IMO president Ann Hogan said Irish doctors were being sought by other countries that could offer better facilities, better supports, better training opportunities and higher rates of pay.

“Is it any wonder that so many have left and that so many intend to leave,” said Dr Hogan.

National chair of the PNA, Tracy Quigley said that there were significant nursing vacancies in psychiatric services around the country.

President of the INMO, Martina Harkin-Kelly, said that more than 7,500 nursing graduates had gone to Britain in the past six years and more than 14,000 had made steps towards travelling abroad to work.

INMO general secretary Liam Doran said it was in the national interest to resolve the staff recruitment and retention issues.

“The clock is ticking; the time is short, and a meandering process that delivers nothing will not suffice,” he said.

He added that there were 40,000 nurse vacancies in Britain’s NNHS.

“If anybody seriously thinks that Brexit is going to lead to a closing down of the NHS aggressively recruiting nurses, midwives, and doctors, they are gravely mistaken,” said Mr Doran.

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