A major Australian health group is interviewing to recruit Irish nurses, midwives and other health workers for 17 hospitals in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia this weekend.
The recruitment campaign follows a poster campaign in Dublin and Cork organized by the Victoria State Government, seeking to fill gaps in Australia’s healthcare sector.
The surge in interest from Australia comes at a bad time for the HSE as it urgently ramps up recruitment campaigns in Ireland and abroad amid mounting concerns over staff shortages here.
Ireland’s healthcare system is already facing competition from private hospitals, known for offering lucrative sweeteners to bait staff, and now the Australians are getting involved.
Australia’s St John of God Health Care has been conducting interviews in England and Scotland for three weeks and will begin in Ireland on Saturday.
Colman O’Driscoll, the leader of the mental health strategies group, originally from Mayfield in Cork, is hoping to add some Irish voices to his workplace this week.
He trained as a psychiatric nurse at St Patrick’s Hospital and Trinity College Dublin before moving to Sydney with his now wife in 2003.
“We were two young Irish people who wanted adventure and Australia gave us that, as well as wonderful career opportunities and a great lifestyle,” he said.
“And an ability to grow that we have from afar, looking back at Ireland, I think we just wouldn’t have had in Ireland.”
He said the scope of healthcare varies, as the larger population means nurses can choose to serve different challenges in big cities or more remote regional towns.
“Within a few years of being here I was in a department head position in a hospital and not long after that I was a service head and in other managerial roles. I am now the CEO of the mental health business of St. John of God. I was called into this role when I was 42.”
He said from talking to friends who work in Irish hospitals the system doesn’t seem as open to younger people.
“I still feel that in Ireland it’s very much about ‘you have to put your time in’ and when you’ve got a certain number of years behind you maybe you get a chance to make progress,” he said.
His colleague, Nursing and Patient Experience Group Leader Dani Meinema, said they encouraged nurses to pursue training or promotion.
“As an organizational value, it’s about valuing all of our caregivers, it doesn’t matter if you’re a nurse, a cleaner or a doctor, we’re all here to provide care,” she said.
Base salaries for nurses and midwives in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia, where this group operates, range from US$72,000 to US$92,000 (€46,500 to €59,400).
However, across the Australian healthcare system, Irish nurses are all too familiar with a few other issues.
For the third time this year, thousands of angry nurses and midwives across Australia walked out on September 1st. The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association said it was a “battle for safe staffing”.
The government in Victoria, the state behind the poster campaign here, announced in August it would recruit and train more than 17,000 nurses and midwives.
Victoria’s Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said: “You can’t deliver a healthcare system with empty hospitals, so we invest in hardworking nurses and midwives who help Victorian patients on a day-to-day basis.”
Also in August, Australia’s ABC News reported on a teenager recovering from cancer who waited over 27 hours in a hospital corridor for a bed.
Images provided to him by his mother look grimly familiar to Irish eyes.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that 260,000 nurses worked in Australia last year, a 19% increase since 2016.
“Census data show that over 40% of registered nurses and carers for the elderly and disabled were foreign-born, with nearly 40,000 having arrived since 2016,” said Australian statistician David Gruen.
“A proportion of 40% who were born abroad is significantly higher than the average for all occupations of 32% who were born abroad.”
Conversely, the latest Irish figures show that many foreign workers are coming here.
Between June 2021 and May this year, 4,937 new nurses started work here, 3,021 from outside the EU and 361 from EU countries.
Among them were 188 Australian nurses and 42 from New Zealand, figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland show.
Most of the new nurses came from India with 2,364, followed by 391 from the Philippines, 250 from the UK and 132 from Zimbabwe.
There were 1,555 new Irish nurses, with about 1,800 expected this year, the board said.
Nursing has always been a mobile profession. Some observers say all of these moves are simply the result of pent-up demand from the closed borders during the pandemic. Covid-19 is also putting unprecedented pressure on hospitals and caregivers, with words like “unprecedented” being appended to almost every new update to patient statistics.
It’s not a good time to be a patient on a waiting list or a hospital manager struggling to find staff, but for nurses and midwives the world certainly seems to be waiting.