IRELAND'S acute hospitals have lost more nurses than administrative staff in the last year and a half as the crisis in the health system deepens.
Meanwhile, Britain's National Health Service (NHS) has been in Ireland recruiting "in their droves" Irish nurses who have qualified this month but who have no domestic prospects.
Since December 2008, staffing levels in Ireland's acute services alone have fallen by nearly 930. Hospitals in the Dublin North East region were the biggest losers, with 350 staff positions unfilled in that period. That was followed by Dublin Mid Leinster (254), the Southern region (166) and the West (161).
Nursing accounted for a quarter of all losses with 226 positions wiped out in just 18 months. By contrast, administrative, management and clerical staff lost just 194 positions. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said the real picture was much bleaker, with nursing staff, including those in areas outside acute services, falling by 2,200 since December 2007.
"That is the number of posts. It may not be the number of people... The headcount might be higher if two people make up one post," said Liam Doran, general secretary of the INMO. He said that while conditions and work loads for nurses were now "intolerable" in acute hospitals, none of the 1,600 newly qualified staff coming out of universities will find work in Ireland.
"A very significant number of these are already being penciled in to go to work in the NHS who have come over in their droves to recruit," he said. "We have a brain drain of the highest order going on at the moment."