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Extra 1,056 college places will be available in September, Harris says

There is a push taking place to increase the number of college places and apprenticeships.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris
Image: PA

THERE WILL BE an additional 1,056 additional college places available in September, according to Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris.

This will include 60 more places in medicine from September, around an 8% increase on last year, with extra places for nursing and architecture also in line for this year. 

There will be 16 new apprenticeships ranging from farm management to horticulture to software architect, in a bid to support making apprenticeships a “valid way” of learning, the minister said.

Harris outlined that his department worked with the Department of Health and the HSE to provide the extra places to match a specific need in the area.

“What I mean by that is areas where we as a country have identified a skills need, or where students have identified massive demand,” he told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland programme.  

The Wicklow Fine Gael TD said it will result in over 700 medicine places and by 2025 the government expects there to be an extra 200 medicine places in the system.

“Last year, we put three extra places in; this year we’re putting 60, to give you a sense of the scale and I think that’s a really good example of when departments work together,” he added.

“I’ve written to government colleagues and said will you you map out for us your requirements in terms of how many social workers, how many speech and language therapists, how many physiotherapist do we need,” he said.

These additional places would be targeted to areas of “high demand” where there’s a skills requirement for society and the economy, Harris stressed. 

He said the department is hoping to make apprenticeships a more viable option.

“Last year we saw the highest number of people ever registered to be an apprentice, and this is part of our real push to culturally try and change the landscape here in Ireland to realise that there’s lots of different ways of getting a qualification,” Harris said. 

However, the announcement has been blasted by the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) which has said there has been a “failure” and “inexplicable oversight” to include any additional spaces for pharmacy students today’s list.

In a statement, the union said Ireland can no longer rely on overseas training for pharmacists and that patient care will be impacted if training places are not increased.

A recent survey of over 1,000 pharmacists conducted by the IPU, with the support of Behaviour & Attitudes (B&A), found the majority of pharmacists believe there is an insufficient number of pharmacists working in the system.

Community pharmacist and IPU Honorary Treasurer, Tom Murray said the “extreme shortage of community pharmacists” has been consistently raised in public and with the Minister Harris.

“We wrote to him outlining the problem as early as last September and the extreme manpower shortage in community pharmacy was highlighted in Dáil Eireann within the last two weeks,” he said.

“It is deeply disappointing and concerning that the sector has been completely overlooked in today’s announcement.”

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He added that the addition of pharmacists to the Government’s Critical Skills Occupation List last week “illustrates the Government’s awareness of the need for additional professionals” in the sector.

“This illustrates the shortsightedness of the recent decision by Minister Harris and points to a worrying lack of coherence within government.

“The fact of the matter is that Ireland is simply not training enough pharmacists. Half of those who work in the sector today were forced to train overseas. This is untenable in a modern healthcare system.

“In July 2021, the Minister publicly announced that an increase in pharmacy places was forthcoming. The failure to honour that commitment will further heap pressure on the system.”

Murray concluded by calling on both Minister Harris and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to address the problem.

“Minister Harris claimed this morning to be listening to the sectors where there is a societal need for an increase in education places.

“Perhaps he needs to pay more attention or listen more closely. While the Minister for Health needs to advocate more loudly for the sector, to ensure those training places that are so vital, are introduced without any further delay. A failure to deliver will have a negative impact on pharmacy services and in turn patient care.”

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