Key points for selected healthcare occupations
- In 2014, there were approximately 103,000 persons employed in healthcare occupations, representing 5.4% of Ireland’s workforce (Figure 9.5.1)
- Almost 90% of those employed in the selected occupations were professionals (approximately 92,000 persons)
- There were 55,000 employed nurses and midwives, accounting for half of overall employment in healthcare occupations; this ranked the largest professional workforce nationally and the fourth largest nationally, after sales assistants, farmers, other administrative occupations
- Between 2009 and 2014, overall employment in the selected healthcare occupations expanded by 1.1%, strong average annual growth in employment was recorded for physiotherapists (8.9%, albeit from a low 2009 base level), occupational & therapy professionals (7.1%) and medical practitioners (4%); in contrast, very modest average annual rates of decline were recorded for pharmacists and nurses & midwives
- Over the five year period 2009 to 2014, there were a net 5,500 additional jobs created; the largest absolute employment increase was observed for medical practitioners (at 2,000); however, employment for this occupation contracted between 2013 and 2014
- Between 2013 and 2014, overall employment contracted by 0.8% or 1,000; this was in contrast to positive growth of 1.7% nationally (Figure 9.5.2)
- Four fifths of persons employed in healthcare occupations was aged 25-54; one fifth of employed medical practitioners and occupational & other therapy professionals was aged 55 or older (Figure 9.5.3).
- Over 90% of all employed healthcare professionals were third level graduates; the corresponding share was over 80% for healthcare associate professionals
- While most persons employed in healthcare occupations were female, just over half of employed medical practitioners were male
- One quarter of employed occupational & other therapy professionals were non-Irish nationals ─ above the national average share of 15%.
In recent years, the recruitment controls in relation to permanent employment contracts in the publicly funded healthcare sector resulted in frequent movements of doctors and nurses between employers. This was evident in the number of intra-occupational transitions, with 1,500 transitions identified for medical practitioners (some of this movement is due to standard hospital rotations during training) and 4,500 for nurses in 2014. The removal of the recruitment ban should result in less intra-occupational movement and importantly in expansion demand for healthcare roles.
However, the increase in public expenditure is expected to be modest in light of requirements for further fiscal consolidation, resulting in lower than average expected growth in employment in publicly funded services, including healthcare. Any growth which does occur is expected to be only a fraction of the total recruitment requirement, which will mostly be driven by the replacement demand. Exits to inactivity are estimated at 2,000 for nurses and 1,500 for other healthcare professionals and associate professionals. As a result the total annual recruitment requirement for healthcare professionals and associate professionals is estimated at over 5,000, with the recruitment requirement for nurses accounting for half of it.
Ireland, together with most developed countries, suffers from a chronic shortage of doctors. The number of unemployed qualified healthcare workers overall is negligible, while reliance on importing healthcare skills has been an important part of HR practices: in 2014, over 1,000 employment permits were issued to non-EEA doctors and a further 150 to nurses.
Shortages continue to persist for the following occupations:
- Medical practitioners (especially locum and non-consultant hospital doctors, registrars and medical specialists (e.g. general and emergency medicine, anaesthetists, paediatricians, consultant radiologists)) nurses - advanced nursing practitioners (e.g. intensive care, operation theatre), registered nurses (e.g. general nurse, cardiovascular care, children’s care; intellectual disability care, mental health care) and clinical nurses
- Radiographers (clinical specialists; MRI and CT radiographers)
- Niche area specialists (radiation therapists, audiologists, orthoptists, prosthetists, orthotists)
- Health service managers.
The Department of Health increased the intake of medical students several years ago (the 2013/2014 graduate output at NFQ levels 8 and above was above 1,500, although some are non-EEA students) and is working on restructuring the progression paths through specialist medical training with a view of reducing the reliance on foreign doctors in non-consultant hospital grades and greater retention of Irish trained doctors.
The removal of the public sector recruitment ban should alleviate some of the above shortages.