There are more teachers, doctors and nurses working in Ireland than ever before, the Taoiseach has told The Pat Kenny Show.
Leo Varadkar was speaking after a new ASTI (Association of Teachers in Ireland) poll found that three-quarters of Irish schools did not receive a single application when they advertised a job vacancy this year.
The research also found that 81% of Ireland’s schools are employing at least one unqualified teacher.
Meanwhile, the INMO (Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation) has described the number of patients waiting on trolleys in Irish hospitals last month as a “red flag warning” ahead of the winter.
INMO figures suggest nearly 8,000 patients spent time waiting on trolleys last month – with nearly 72,500 left waiting for a bed so far this year.
The organisation is warning that a winter hospital overcrowding crisis is “inevitable” and is urging the HSE and the Government to act now to reduce the harm.
The Taoiseach told Pat Kenny Ireland now has more nurses and doctors working in the health service “than ever before”.
“Despite the fact we have a lot of emigration to Australia in particular, we have more nurses registered and working the health service than ever before and more doctors by the way registered with the Medical Council and working in Ireland than ever before,” he said.
“So, we do have people coming in from abroad which is good; we do have people coming back from abroad and we are increasing training places dramatically.”
Mr Varadkar insisted Ireland is “very competitive” when it comes to salaries for doctors and nurses – but admitted “we don’t do as well in terms of work-life balance and the level of patient-load they have in comparison to other countries.
Minister Varadkar also said there are “more teachers working in Ireland than ever before”.
“We do have teacher shortages and that is a real issue, particularly when it comes to filling maternity and illness and so on,” he said.
“Notwithstanding that, once again, we have more teachers in Ireland than ever before and the pupil-teacher ratio has never been lower.
“So, there is a bigger picture here that doesn’t get seen when we focus on the gaps and on the problems.”
The Taoiseach said Cabinet did consider regulations forcing doctors and nurses to work in Ireland for a set period after their training but “decided, on balance, it wasn’t a good idea”.
“While people might be required to stay for a number of years, they would be almost more likely to go once their period of compulsory work, if you like, continued,” he said.
Mr Varadkar admitted that it the HSE policy of flying in a doctor from Dubai once a year to service Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in South Kerry is “not as it should be”.
“If we had an appropriate, skilled doctor willing to do that job in Ireland that wouldn’t be the case,” he said.
“Where you have to put in place contingencies you do and I know for the telemedicine service a lot of parents who have had experience of that have been happy with the service.”
He said it is “one of the things we have to do in order to make sure we are able to provide a level of service”.
“Is it ideal? Absolutely not and it is something we are concerned about and something we are working on,” he said.
Mr Varadkar admitted that housing is at the heart of all of these issues – but again insisted the Government was making a lot of progress in the housing crisis.
When it was put to him that Ireland needs more than 50,000 new homes a year while the government is aiming at around 30,000 he said, “You can only ramp it up so fast”.
He said the Government has more than doubled its housing output in the last ten years and said he hopes to see the country building 50,000 or 60,000 by the end of the decade.
He also claimed that Government is now “on the cusp” of changing the generational gap when it comes to homeownership – after the census found a big fall in homeownership among people aged under 40.
The 2022 Census found a 20% drop in households owned with a mortgage or loan where the head of the household was between 30 and 39 years old.
Meanwhile, there was a 17% increase in the number of households owned by people aged 65 and over.
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