Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane TD has reiterated his call for the government to step up workforce planning for the health service.
He said that a Sinn Féin government would establish a high-level group including the Taoiseach and the Ministers for Health and Further and Higher Education to implement a 10-year health workforce strategy.
Teachta Cullinane added that for the last 20 years and more, successive governments failed to look ahead and train, recruit, and retain enough healthcare workers to safely and fully staff the health service, and that the consequences of this were clear for all to see in outdated contracts, understaffing, and major burnout.
Teachta Cullinane said:
“The ESRI report published today on health workforce needs is a stark reminder of the extent of the challenge facing the health service.
“There is no plan in place to train, recruit, and, crucially, retain enough specialist healthcare professionals to reach the 15,000 target by 2035.
“We need a high-level group, led by the Taoiseach, Minister for Health, and Minister for Further and Higher Education, to implement a 10-year health workforce strategy.
“The government needs to bring its full muscle to bear on the many workforce challenges facing the health service.
“We know there are hundreds if not thousands of highly qualified Irish graduates leaving our shores every year for better working conditions in Australia and elsewhere.
“We need to stem the bleeding. The HSE must engage with students in college, particularly their final year, to guide them into appropriate employment in the health service, and ensure that we do not lose them abroad or to the private sector.
“They must continue to engage with young people who are employed in the health service and contemplating leaving. For those that do leave for training and experience, they must know that a job is waiting for them to return to, and that they have a government actively working to make the health service a better place to work.
“The government must also set out a multi-annual plan to increase college places for health and social care professions, with a job guarantee for those graduates.
“Sinn Féin is proposing a 10% increase each year in health and social care graduate places for the next five years.
“We would deliver larger increases where possible in some professions such as occupational therapy and speech and language therapy, where we do not train anywhere near enough graduates.
“The Minister for Health must also finally resolve the many contract disputes to foster a modern workforce – medical scientists, consultants, junior doctors, GPs, and more, all have serious issues with their contracts and working conditions.
“The Framework for Safe Staffing and Skills mix must be applied to every ward, every emergency department, and all community settings.
“That framework is the agreed scientific method of determining whether we have enough nurses and healthcare assistants, and there must be transparency on the real deficit we are facing in those professions.
“In addition, in the short-term, international recruitment is key to filling vacancies in the health service. We need to attract Irish graduates home and compete for highly skilled international talent.
“A Sinn Féin government would set annual training and recruitment targets over a 10-year period, across the range of professions and across higher education institutions.
“We would work with training bodies and the HSE to ensure the necessary capacity is funded and delivered.
“Governments have failed to take the initiative in strategic workforce planning, and consequently, our health service has always been understaffed and under pressure, with the workforce enduring extreme burn out. That must change.”