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Government moves to ramp up healthcare and vet college places amid staffing crisis

Minister Simon Harris said this could address the yearly ‘scramble’ for college places and give more options to students.

LAST UPDATE | Jun 21st 2023, 7:19 PM

AN INCREASE OF more than 5,000 college places in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry and veterinary medicine will begin to come on stream from next year. 

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said this could help the yearly “scramble” for college places, and give more options to students who feel they have to study abroad “not by choice”.

The Higher Education Authority was tasked by the Department of Further and Higher Education to establish additional capacity in healthcare and veterinary in a short period of time.

It reported back that, with investment, an additional 208 doctors, 692 nurses, 196 pharmacists, 63 dentists and 230 vets could be trained every year.

Amid a recruitment shortage in these key areas, it is understood that, subject to National Development Plan budget negotiations, an increase of more than 5,000 additional third level enrolments could be achieved, starting in 2024. 

For example, some 125 additional undergraduate medicine places across three colleges could be provided each year. 

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The new courses would be spread over a number of third level providers but would see the establishment of new forms of delivery.

For example, half of the additional nursing places in Maynooth would be reserved for students from further education. Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT) and Atlantic Technological University (ATU) will also reserve places for students from Further Education and Training (FET) colleges. 

In medicine, the University of Galway proposal will focus on medicine in remote and rural settings.

There was a significant discussion at Cabinet yesterday about the new plan to ramp up college places, given the pressure the healthcare system is under in terms of recruitment and retention.

The investment and timing will depend on the budgetary process and the National Development Plan, ministers said.

Speaking at Government Buildings, Harris said that it could lead to “unprecedented change” in the number of graduates and help address workforce shortages.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said “the ultimate goal” is a doubling of healthcare college places across the board, and college places had increased last year and would increase this September.

“As of now we’ve got about 21,000 more people working in the health service than we did when Covid arrived here.

“What’s really encouraging in what the HEA have come back with and what the colleges have come back with – they’ve already said that they can double pharmacy places, that they can double dentistry places, and they’re proposing very, very significant increases in nursing and medicine as well.

“Already they’re proposing adding an extra 1,000 nursing places in the country, they’re talking about well over a 50% increase in medicine places as well.

“So this is really, really encouraging to see this.”

With reporting by Press Association

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