The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said HSE figures show there are now 5,100 fewer full-time equivalent nurses and midwives working in Ireland than there were in 2009.
The INMO said it has been asking for a long time that the moratorium on the recruitment of nurses and midwifery grades be lifted.
The matter was referred as a dispute to the Labour Relations Commission and a conciliation conference between the two sides was held on March 7. A second conference was held on March 20.
However, according to the INMO, a resolution was not achieved.
“The INMO’s argument is that the reduction in nursing numbers resulting from the moratorium is unsustainable,” said Phil Ní Sheaghdha of the INMO.
“Clearly, this has impacted on the service and the ability of nurses and midwives to provide a safe level of care to patients.”
Furthermore, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said the nursing union had been arguing that the shortfall in numbers is also inefficient from a cost perspective as the HSE is now engaging the services of more than 700 agency nurses or midwives per week.
“While these facts are not disputed, a resolution was not arrived at and the HSE sought an adjournment for five weeks which has been granted and the parties are to reconvene at the Labour Relations Commission towards the end of April to continue dealing with these issues,” Ms Ní Sheaghdha told members.
Last month, the nursing union released the findings of a midwifery staffing survey which, it said, confirmed the health service has a “critical shortage” of midwives in all of the country’s 19 maternity hospitals/ units.
The survey found the internationally recommended midwife to birth ratio, of 1:29.5 births, was not in place in any of the units, with the ratio varying from 1:32 to 1:55 and a national average of 1:40. Across the border in the North, the ratio is just 1:24.
The survey concluded that the maternity service required more than 620 midwives to reach the recommended staffing level for safe and better care.
In February, a report was published in the respected medical journal, The Lancet, on patient mortality and the link to nursing numbers.
After studying the outcomes of more than 400,000 patients aged 50 years and older in 300 hospitals in nine European countries, the authors of the report were able to conclude that an increase in a nurses’ workload by just one patient increased the likelihood of an in-patient dying within 30 days of admission by 7%.