University of Ulster nursing expert Professor Brendan McCormack has warned that Ireland will not be able to cope with its ageing population if current threats to the nursing profession continue.
Professor McCormack, who is President of the All-Ireland Gerontological Nurses Association (AIGNA), was speaking at the launch of AIGNA’s research report ‘Exploring Nursing Expertise in Residential Care For Older People in Ireland’.
AIGNA represents the older people’s nursing sector throughout Ireland and promotes healthy ageing and well being through the advancement of excellence in the sector.
The extensive research, compiled in conjunction with Nursing Homes Ireland, UCD and University of Ulster, is the first to document and articulate the precise experience of registered nurses in residential settings in Ireland.
“Registered nurses make a critical contribution to the lives of older people in residential care settings, yet we find they feel undervalued and constantly under threat,” said Prof McCormack.
“Decision makers and educators in the nursing field need to recognise the unique skill set that applies in this growing sector for nurses.
“Nurses feel that the discipline is being continuously eroded by such moves as the Government’s removal of the requirement for 24-hour qualified nursing care in certain residential settings.
“The AIGNA report shows the dual role that registered gerontological nurses play in the new reality of person-centred care in our ageing society.
“Gerontological nurses are both social and clinical advocates for older people in residential settings.
“It is the integration of these two perspectives into their daily work that maintains both the health and the social and personal wellbeing of the older person – something that service planners need to take into account when calculating skills mix.
“The report also shows how undervalued these specialist skills are in relation to other branches of nursing which are considered more challenging.
“It is the job of policy makers and managers alike to ensure that gerontological nursing is viewed as a challenging and healthy career choice, and one with a bright and rewarding future.”
Tadhg Daly, CEO of Nursing Homes Ireland, praised the real-life experience of the comprehensive report.
“This important research challenges head on misconceptions surrounding gerontological nursing. It dispels the perception that nursing in residential care is unchallenging and of poor status.
“The impact of an ageing population will be reflected in considerable growth in requirement for gerontological nurses and key stakeholders must act now, given the importance and indispensability of gerontological nursing for the healthcare sector.
“Workforce planning must address the challenges of attracting and retaining a high-quality workforce to care for older persons.”
Approximately 572 predominantly full-time nursing vacancies at all grades exist in the private and voluntary nursing home sector, and this is expected to expand to 867 over the next year, according to Nursing Homes Ireland research.