The housing crisis is forcing young nurses to move to countries where accommodation is cheaper, said the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization (INMO).
Secretary General Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the attractive packages offered by Britain’s NHS – which include free or reduced-rent accommodation – are attracting new entrants to the UK.
She said the exodus of nurses is compounding the problems that already exist in the stretched health service.
It comes amid warnings that this winter will see emergency services become ‘hell on earth’ due to overcrowding, as experts fear hospitals may not be able to cope with both COVID and winter flu.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said Monday that retaining graduates is key to staffing services and keeping beds open.
She told Newstalk: ‘We know the UK has a huge shortage of nurses and they offer very attractive packages – accommodation and extra bonuses when working in and around major cities.
“We believe accommodation costs are so high now that it will be impossible for people who start on a low salary to have accommodation in and around hospitals where they are desperately needed.
“And given the housing crisis, that obviously also affects nursing students and graduates and qualified staff.” Many NHS trusts offer staff accommodation at a reduced cost, with some offering free beds to new hires.
For example, Oxford University Hospitals offer staff on-site accommodation at around 20% below market rents, including 950 individual accommodation units.
It has been announced in recent days that the Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust is to provide two-bedroom ‘pod’ apartments to newly recruited staff as a short-term option.
The pods will be available to health workers who travel to the area for their work and will be paid for by the trust for up to three months while they seek long-term accommodation.
The HSE has previously said it is offering strategies to attract and retain healthcare workers nationally and internationally, such as offering permanent positions to all Irish college graduates and supplementing the nursing workforce with plans ambitious international resourcing programs.
The latest rental report from daft.ie showed that as of August 1 there were only 716 homes available to rent in Ireland. The average asking price in the market across the country on that date was €1,618 per month.
A spokeswoman for INMO told the Mail that according to indications from a survey of female nursing and midwifery students completing their internship year, which will soon be published, many intend to leave the Ireland due to attractive relocation packages.
The standard starting salary for nurses in Ireland is around €31,109, compared to €30,845 in the UK NHS. A senior nurse in Ireland would expect to receive €50,211, while a similar role in the UK would cost up to €46,260.
INMO has also expressed concern about working conditions due to overcrowding in hospitals, which it says contributes to attacks on nurses.
The HSE’s draft winter plan models a number of potential flu and COVID scenarios.
It says that over the six months of the winter season, a peak flu season could lead to 4,350 hospitalizations, with 225 patients in intensive care.
A worst-case scenario for COVID would see 17,000 hospitalizations, with 700 patients in intensive care, the report also points out.