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General Secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha from the INMO. Leah Farrell

HSE 'lifts recruitment freeze on nurses' amid concerns of Covid-19 threat to health service

A representative of nurses in Ireland said that not cancelling St Patrick’s Day “puts too much strain on our public health service”.

A RECRUITMENT FREEZE on nurses and midwives has been lifted by the HSE, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has said, due to the threat of pressure being put on the health service because of the spread of Covid-19.

Phil Ní Sheaghdha, the general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) told RTÉ Radio One’s Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra programme that the organisation got confirmation this morning that the recruitment freeze had been lifted.

“We sought confirmation that it would be lifted for nurses and midwives… We got confirmation last night that any barriers to recruitment had been lifted,” she said.

“We’re saying today that that is welcome, but it should have happened earlier.”

Over the past few months, has spoken to healthcare workers in a variety of areas – including nursing, speech and language therapy, physiotherapy, midwifery, administration – who were told they had been successful in attaining a new job with the HSE, but had yet to start in the role.

In some cases, individuals left their existing employment to start their new job in the HSE. It’s understood that recruitment had been suspended due to “financial pressures” in the health care system.

The government and HSE have repeatedly insisted that there is no recruitment freeze. 

A spokesperson for the HSE confirmed today that there “will be no barriers to the recruitment of the workforce that is required to support our critical clinical services during the Covid-19″. 
“The HSE are also expediting all other avenues in terms of those on panels and awaiting appointment, those who have left the service for reasons of retirement, career break, secondments etc are  also being identified and contacted,” a spokesperson for the HSE said today. 

“The HSE will ensure that every method of engaging staff that are required for managing services at this time are maximised and we will not fall short in this regard.

“The efforts of all our staff and stakeholders at this time is fully acknowledged.”

The INMO said today in a statement: “The INMO has been calling since last May, for the exemption of nurses and midwives from the recruitment embargo in place since that date in the HSE.

The statement said this call “has been reiterated considering the current crisis”. 

“We have sought that all barriers in place currently which slow down and delay recruitment are removed,” the INMO statement said. 

The HSE have confirmed this morning that there will be no barriers to recruitment of the nursing workforce and all processes required to appoint nurses on panels and awaiting appointment will now be expediated. The INMO welcomes this however it should never have been in place and has left services understaffed which in current circumstances is completely unacceptable.

Coronavirus fears for the health service

Ní Sheaghdha said that the ban was being lifted amid the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

There are currently 18 confirmed cases in Ireland, with contact tracing underway to identify any other possible cases. There has been one confirmed case of community transmission.

“We know that numbers will increase because contact tracing has been rolled out to more people. Anyone who is positive is brought to a hospital setting.

Our members are at work, they are dealing with this, they are stepping up to the plate… [but] we already have a shortage of staff anyway.

She said that the INMO had requested that all the barriers to recruitment were lifted. 

When asked on whether St Patrick’s Day should be cancelled or not, Ní Sheaghdha said:

I think that puts too much strain on our public health service. Just general activity at mass gatherings [is enough to spread the virus]. Clearly, it should be cancelled. 

“Workers need full protection, that includes any opportunity that we can get to prevent spread in the community,” Ní Sheaghdha.

Labour’s health spokesperson Alan Kelly welcomed news that the HSE recruitment ban has been lifted for nurses and midwives, but called for clarity on the status of the ban for other healthcare professionals.

Kelly said that since he revealed that the HSE had a recruitment embargo in place in April last year, he has been calling for the measure to be reversed.

We now need clarity on whether the ban will be lifted for other healthcare professionals such as OTs, psychologists, and if promotions within frontline healthcare services will now be sanctioned.

“This recruitment ban has done so much damage to frontline health services. Nurses in overcrowded emergency departments have felt it the most. Hopefully the lifting of the recruitment ban will ease the staffing pressure in hospitals once more nurses and midwives are recruited.

If this ban had been lifted sooner, or had not been introduced at all, we would have more nurses, which we know we badly need now.

He said that the ban has “never made sense”, considering that the HSE has been spending “on average €900,000 a day on healthcare staff“.

Speaking on the same RTÉ programme, Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly said that “it’s very difficult to understand the decision” not to cancel St Patrick’s Day without having the information that the Irish government has.

“As a lay person,” he added, “it seems reasonable that [St Patrick's Day] will not slow it down.”

He also said that a very senior clinician had contacted him who is working on one of the vaccines. “We have to play for time,” he said.

- with reporting from Sean Murray

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