Government to appoint 1,000 nursing graduates on reduced pay

Nurses have reacted with “shock” to news that the Government is to appoint 1,000 graduates on two-year contracts — on condition they accept significantly reduced pay packets.

In a highly controversial move, the HSE will appoint the graduates in February on deals reaching into 2015 that will see them receive just 80% of current salary levels. The recruits will not be an extra resource for the perennially overstretched health service, with the positions instead being used to replace expensive overtime and agency work.

Under the plan, the new nurses will receive a starting salary of just €22,000, compared to an existing starting salary of €26,400. While they may also work overtime and additional days, any of these extra payments will be based on the new low-level salary. The move will save the State about €4.4m a year.

However, according to Health Minister James Reilly, the net saving will be closer to €10m when the reduction in overtime and agency work is taken into account.

He told the Oireachtas committee on health that the move was needed to stop the flow of newly qualified nurses to overseas positions.

He said they would benefit from mentoring in a hospital setting and it was a move he had looked for from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for some time.

Despite the savings, Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation general secretary, Liam Doran, insisted the move degraded a quality profession that could be the difference between life and death.

“The INMO is shocked at the idea of 80% of salary and will be having further discussions on this. The INMO also wants clarification on the educational dimension of the scheme,” he said.

The controversial de facto pay cut came a fortnight after Dr Reilly told a Dáil public accounts committee he wants a JobBridge-style scheme for the nursing sector to help soothe the HSE’s financial fears. He is planning to introduce the policy as early as 2014, and has discussed its finer details with Brendan Howlin, the public expenditure minister.

At yesterday’s health committee, Dr Reilly warned wider reforms were contingent on the Government agreeing to a changed Croke Park agreement with trade unions. He was at the committee to defend the need for a supplementary budget for his department. This had to be passed by the committee.

He told its members it was not a unique occurrence and “more often than not” the health portfolio required a supplementary budget to make ends meet.

And he said despite the overspend, he had done more than most to get value for money.

“No other department has completed as much reform as we have,” he said.

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