Page 513 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 5 March 2008

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Minister, how do you reconcile these on-the-ground facts with the claims that you made yesterday in the Assembly?

MS GALLAGHER: The beauty of being in opposition means you actually do not have to understand how the health system works.

Mr Smyth: Explain it to us.

MS GALLAGHER: I will explain, because the comments I made yesterday are correct. We have more nurses in our system than we have had in the past. Right now we have more nurses. And I can give you the exact figure from December 2007.

Mr Smyth: Come on, dazzle us with your knowledge.

MS GALLAGHER: I am quite entitled to refer to the exact statistic, Mr Smyth. It is 1,207.5 full-time equivalents in December 2007 nursing and midwifery staff compared to 1,023 full-time equivalents in December 2006 which, in a year, is an extra 84.4 full-time equivalent nursing staff or an increase of 7.5 per cent.

That does not mean that, on any given day, there will not be a shortfall in shifts at the hospital. They occur for a range of reasons in a large organisation, such as sick leave, for one reason or another; training, having to go off, in terms of professional development; holidays, perhaps. Often our biggest shortages coincide with school holiday times.

We have just undergone a massive recruitment for another 60 full-time equivalent nurses. We are going through the recruitment exercise now. I understand one contingent have already started work. I understand that there are pressures, particularly for nursing staff at both of our public hospitals and particularly in making sure that, on every day, every shift has the right complement and the right mix of staff, whether it be enrolled staff, registered nurses or some of those senior nurses in those leading nurse positions.

In terms of recruitment and in terms of separation rates, that is, the myth that Mrs Burke keeps peddling that everyone is leaving the hospital in droves, it is just not true and it just does not add up. It does not add up on the figures that I have seen; it does not add up in terms of the staff that we have in place; and it does not add up in terms of the applications we get for nursing staff to come and work at the hospital.

I accept that there are pressures on every ward on every given day because of how busy the hospital is and because of the fact that we have, on any given day, nurses who are unable to do the shifts that they were allocated. That presents us with challenges. We try to meet those in terms of using overtime, and we do it in line with the certified agreement.

I cannot stand here and say that people are not choosing to work here. They simply are. They are coming here and they are staying here. We have more health professionals employed in our public hospital system than we have ever had.

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