Galway nurses have joined the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) in calling for the boycott of a HSE initiative that will see pay cuts introduced for new nursing graduates.
Branded “flawed” by both nursing unions, the Post Qualification Nursing and Midwifery Intern Initiative 2012 will see up to 1,000 new graduates appointed across HSE and HSE funded sites to a two-year rotational graduate scheme on 80 per cent of an entry grade salary – €22,000.
The first phase of the scheme for Registered General Nurses was launched on 11 January while the second phase, which will cover mental health, intellectual disability, midwifery and paediatrics, will be launched in February.
The HSE had envisaged that the first of these appointments would be in place at the end of February, however the health executive is facing huge backlash to the scheme, with over 500 new graduates protesting against the initiative in Dublin last Saturday.
Speaking to the Galway Independent, PNA Student Representative Sarah Potter said the graduate initiative would force more nurses to seek employment abroad.
According to union officials, the proposed salary for new graduates under the scheme is “significantly less” than a new graduate could earn in the UK, where salaries in London would start at €30,000 “with excellent continuing educational opportunities”.
Pointing out that starting pay for newly qualified nurses and midwives in Ireland has already been cut by 24 per cent since 2009, NUI Galway graduate Ms Potter added that a number of her classmates have already gone to England, with others now considering the move as a result of the impending introduction of the scheme.
The 1,000 positions set to be advertised by the HSE in the coming weeks are not additional posts within the health service but will instead involve the replacement of agency and temporary staff on the existing agreed pay scale, including new graduates on short term contracts that are now being withdrawn.
Supporting the PNA’s call for a boycott, Ms Potter said the initiative is essentially extending the time that nurses spend as students to six years and stressed that, under the initiative, graduate nurses would have the same responsibilities as any other staff nurses on hospital wards.
“We will be graduate nurses for two more years, and at stage we could have a Masters. If you look at any other graduates who are doing a six year course, they’re on way better money and in way better job positions than we would be coming out in. We’ve already done our four years, we’re 100 per cent accountable and we’re only getting 80 per cent of the pay.”
In a statement to the Galway Independent, HSE Human Resources National Director Barry O’Brien said the proposed programme would allow the HSE to reduce its reliance on agency nurses and overtime, “which is unsustainable”.
“I find it very difficult to understand the IMNO’s reaction to this initiative as in the past they and other unions have criticised the HSE for not retaining graduates in the health services leaving them with no other option but to go abroad for work.
“In the current economic environment, and with very limited recruitment opportunities in the public sector, this is an opportunity for 2012 nursing and midwifery graduates to gain substantial clinical experience to further their career and professional development, with the security of a two year contract and salary,” said O’Brien.
The INMO and PNA are now calling on the Department of Health and HSE to enter “meaningful talks to address the comprehensive rejection of the proposed scheme” by nurse and midwife graduates and to agree other initiatives, which would reduce payroll costs “while respecting all agreed salary scales”.