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ESRI projections on the health service’s workforce needs are concerning

By Paul Mulholland - 09th Aug 2022

health service’s workforce

The Irish health service’s shortage of key staff has been a problem for some time. Regarding the medical workforce, the difficulty in filling vacant consultant posts has resulted in what is commonly referred to as a “recruitment and retention crisis”. 

So, the scale of the staffing requirements in public hospitals between 2019 and 2035 outlined by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in its new report on the area is concerning. 

Nationally, the population is projected to be 5.4 million by 2035, which means an increase of close to 500,000 between 2019 and 2035. The number aged 85 years and older is projected to more than double. 

Driven by projected demographic change, particularly population ageing, workforce requirements for all staff categories examined are projected to increase substantially by 2035. 

By that year the ESRI projects additional workforce requirements for medical staff of between 2,575 and 3,236 whole-time equivalents (WTEs) nationally. This represents an increase of between 1.7 and 2.1 per cent on average per annum. 

“Across scenarios the highest projected regional increase per annum was 2.2 per cent, recorded in the east of the country,” according to the Institute. 

There would also be a requirement for an increase in nursing and midwifery staff of between 5,726 and 8,868 WTEs nationally, with a rise of between 1.4 and 2.1 per cent on average per annum. 

The largest increases in workforce are projected for health and social care professionals, who are particularly required by older people in hospital. The highest per annum growth is projected for occupational therapists (2.7-3.3 per cent) and speech and language therapists (2.3-3.3 per cent). 

Commenting on the report, Ms Anne Marie Hoey, HSE National Director of Human Resources, said the workforce projections will better inform decisions and resource planning for the new regional health areas. 

Ms Hoey added they will be “a critical enabler for our joint discussions on workforce planning both with our funders and stakeholders”. 

“Furthermore, this will facilitate the medium- and longer-term planning necessary in areas such as training and education to ensure the availability of graduates to fulfil the workforce requirements within the domestic market.” 

Another report focusing on the community sector will also be published. 

As Ms Hoey said, the research is important to facilitate a strategic approach to the running of the health service. The report’s findings are of great relevance in terms of the implementation of Sláintecare. 

However, if the existing recruitment problems are anything to go by, hiring new healthcare staff on the scale outlined in the report will be difficult. Regarding consultants, the Medical Independent recently reported there were 297 more vacant posts at the end of June compared to the end of 2020. Talks on a new consultant contract have proven protracted and difficult. 

However, if the existing problems in recruiting healthcare staff are anything to go by, recruiting on the scale outlined in the report will be difficult 

Younger doctors are continuing to emigrate. Australia has issued 402 work visas to Irish doctors in 2022 so far, compared to 272 in 2019, heard the IMO AGM in May. Research conducted by Dr Niamh Humphries (PhD) has found emigration is being driven by a variety of factors, including poor working conditions and also “an absence of hope”. 

The recent ballot for strike action among NCHDs was further evidence of the disillusionment among the group, even if current negotiations with health management avoid the need for industrial action. 

These are just some of the immediate issues that will have to be resolved if the Irish acute service is to be able to meet the huge challenges of caring for a growing and aging population. 

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