Retention fee standoff threat to health system

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St Vincent’s Hospital (Photo: Sinéad Fitzgerald)

 

It goes without saying how important our Nursing staff are to our Health system. There are currently in and around 60,000 nurses on the Irish Register. Each year they pay a retention fee in order to remain on the register and therefore be legally entitled to practice. The figure for the fee was €100 but has now gone up by 50%. Across the country, and with the support of staff unions, predominantly the INMO, (Irish Nursing and Midwives Organisation), Nurses and Midwives have rallied against the increase.

Dean Flanagan, student Nurse and representative of the INMO, argues against the increase of the retention fee on the basis that it is the straw to break the camel’s back. ‘Outside of the registration fee the main thing has has been the Frontline cuts. The pay cuts and staffing cuts. Over the last five years there has been a loss of 5,000 nurses.’ From the perspective of the 1,500 student nurses trained a year, he points out, this means a loss of mentors. ‘They don’t have the support of five or six years ago.’ I asked for the number of nurses that have already paid the new fee of €150 and Dean replies, ‘From the latest figures published by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI), where the fees go directly, there is no third party, there are around 60,000 nurses on the register. Around 18,000 have paid.’

As the NMBI is a self-sufficient body, funding has to come from within, but as Flanagan points out, the issue isn’t with the existence of the fee itself. Only recently have the NMBI published accounts of how the registration fee is spent and one bone of contention is the money spent on Q4, a public relations representative. The NMBI handle cases of fitness to practice and Flanagan states, ‘Before an outcome is determined all accusations are in the public domain.’ He also states that the last two years student nurses pay €20 to go on the student register. It will take another two years to find out whether this is on top of the proposed €150. Flanagan comments, ‘They have not said it will even stay at €150.’

In an open response to a letter from Kevin Figgis, Sector Organiser in SIPTU’s Health Division published on its website, the NMBI states, ‘The NMBI regrets that it has had to make the increase but the fee has been kept as low as possible for as long as possible. It was made clear at the time of legislation that the Board would continue to be self-funding and needed to plan and cost to fulfil its legal obligations. Following detailed negotiations with the Executive and Board members in 2013 it was agreed in October 2013 that an initial once-off sum of €1.6m would be granted by the Department of Health to the Board to cover 2013/2014 costs but that the board would have to increase its income in 2015 to undertake its commitments in the legislation.

Karen Canning, a nurse for 35 years and founder of a popular Facebook page for nurses and midwives opposed to the increase in the fee, has said ‘They have said they won’t keep us on the register if we don’t pay the €150 but some have paid €100 and their cheques have been cashed.’ The INMO have produced badges for those who have only paid €100. In four years there have been three increases to the registration fee and Canning adds, ‘We’ve taken pay cuts or reduced hours. We’ve got the same bills as anyone else. The NMBI do not fund or run courses, they do not pay us to take courses, a lot of us fund it ourselves.’

The City contacted the NMBI but did not receive a response.

By Sinéad Fitzgerald

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