Professor Brendan McCormack, president of the All Ireland Gerontological Nurses Association (AIGNA), said the specific skills of nurses in the nursing home sector were under threat, despite their services never being in so much demand.
It is estimated that there are currently more than 570 vacancies for full-time nurses at all grades in private and voluntary nursing homes with the figure predicted to rise to almost 870 over the next 12 months.
Prof McCormack said the undermining of the profession of gerontological nurses would leave the country unable to cope with an ageing population.
Speaking at the launch of a new AIGNA report, in conjunction with Nursing Homes Ireland, on nursing expertise in nursing homes, Prof McCormack said many nurses working in the sector felt undervalued and constantly under threat.
“Nurses feel that the discipline is being continuously eroded by such moves as the Government’s removal of the requirement for 24-hour qualified nursing care in certain residential settings,” said Prof McCormack who co-authored the report.
It researched the experiences of 23 nurses working in nursing homes and found they “illuminated the ordinary, the invisible and taken-for-granted expertise inherent in the practice wisdom of nursing in residential care”.
However, it warned that there is a blurring of roles between nurses and care assistants which resulted in the role of nurses in nursing homes being devalued with the perception that their expertise could be substituted.
“Decision-makers and educators in the nursing field need to recognise the unique skill set that applies in this growing sector,” said Prof McCormack.
The report’s co-author, Amanda Phelan, said research had shown that 6% of people aged over 65 years are likely to require residential care at any one time.
She claimed nursing homes would be required to provide an extra 12,270 beds by 2021 — an increase of 59% on 2006 figures.
Nursing Homes Ireland chief executive, Tadhg Daly, said: “As a society we need to ensure that workforce planning addresses the challenges of attracting and retaining a high quality workforce in our sector.”
He said the AIGNA report dispelled the perception that nursing in residential care settings was unchallenging and of poor status.