Pandemic leads to increased interest in nursing and midwifery education. WHO estimates global shortage of nurses to be 5.9 million
12th May 2021 – To mark International Nurses Day 2021 the Irish Universities Association (IUA) Heads of Nursing & Midwifery Group is highlighting the need for increased investment in nursing and midwifery education as demand for course places increases during the pandemic. The demand comes as Ireland’s higher education sector braces itself for a demographic bulge and resulting increase in demand for college places.
The 2021 CAO applications showed a 21% (5,951) increase in first preference applications for nursing and midwifery compared to 2020 (4,909). This represents a positive trend for Ireland with the WHO estimating a global shortage of nurses to be 5.9 million in a 2020 report*. The WHO issued a call to action for all countries to invest in their nursing workforce to strengthen primary care, progress universal healthcare and advance the agenda of the UN’s sustainable development goals.
Today, Ireland is short of nurses and midwives and the overall age-profile of the profession clearly indicates that the shortage may become more acute as our population continues to increase and demographics shift over the coming decade. Ireland’s strategy of relying on migrant nurses and midwives to meet this deficit is not a sustainable one.
The Irish Universities Association has an established Heads of Nursing and Midwifery Group comprising experienced academics working across DCU, UCD, TCD, UL, UCC, St Angela’s and NUIG.
Representing the Heads of Nursing and Midwifery Group, Dr. Fintan Sheerin from Trinity College Dublin said: “Given the healthcare changes that are upon us, Ireland will need to significant increase the capacity of nursing education to facilitate both school leavers and mature graduate applicants to meet the well flagged increased demands of the healthcare system. The whole system was mobilised to fight the pandemic and enable the healthcare system to pull through the surge in demand for treatment. Looking forward, the system will once again face enormous pressures given Ireland’s demographics and associated demands for treatment.”
Dr. Sheerin continued: “The praise and appreciation shown to nurses and midwives during the pandemic is most welcome and richly deserved. However, it will not sustain the profession into the future. Nor will it deal with the demographic bullet train hurtling towards us. Political will, strategic planning and investment are required from across the whole of Government to ensure that the stability of these “caring professions” is not left to chance. The downside risk is too great to ignore.”
The Heads of Nursing and Midwifery Group have raised a number of points including the need to support and invest in the education of nurses and midwives, which does require investment given the high staff to student ratio, comprehensive supports, equipment and infrastructure required. Further resources need to be invested in colleges by the State to ensure that students have adequate teaching and assessment on clinical placements, thus reducing the pressure on front line clinical staff carrying out preceptorship roles. All of this will reduce the pressure on the health system, while enhancing the education of nursing and midwifery students.
Secondly, there is also growing concern regarding the advancing age profile of nursing and midwifery educators. Many academics will reach retirement age within 10 years, coincidental with the increasing demands on the Irish health system. There is currently insufficient capacity in the system to replace them. Replacement with teachers with doctorate prepared academics is mission critical to the education of nurses and midwives.
Finally, the group identifies that the scope of health practice is ever broadening. Nurses and midwives are expected to remain up to date on scientific literature, clinical developments while delivering best practice care. In order to do so, they need more protected time for further education.
Slaintecare has established a new health policy framework for Ireland. As a consequence, nurses and midwives will have to operate at a higher level of clinical autonomy. They will increasingly be required to undertake full episodes of care from assessment, diagnosis, treatment to discharge as healthcare transitions from acute into community and primary care settings.
* WHO: State of the World’s Nursing 2020 – Investing in Education, Jobs and Leadership
Members of the Irish Universities Association (IUA) Heads of Nursing & Midwifery Group
Dr. Fintan Sheerin, TCD
Dr. Mary Rose Sweeney, DCU
Dr. Christine Deasy, UL
Professor Josephine Hegarty, UCC
Prof. Fiona Timmins, UCD
Dr Dympna Casey, NUIG
Dr Edel McSharry, St. Angela’s College.
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