22 April 2005

Daily Ireland

Nursing school opens in Dundalk

If you’re a fan of No Angels, currently showing on Tuesdays on Channel 4, then you’ll know how much business nurses can bring to the local community.
Although fictional medical students Lia, Kate, Beth and Anji spend most of their cash down at the local pub, real-life nurses inject money into all areas of the economy, including the housing and educational sector, thanks to the length of their training courses and their need for permanent accommodation.
Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT) in Co Louth is a case in point.
The college, which currently caters for nearly 4,000 full and part-time students, is currently embarking on a multi-million euro revamp, which will see the addition of a new nursing building, as well as four new sports pitches and an indoor sports complex, to its present 45-acre campus.
Institute bosses hope the move will see a huge upsurge in applications from those wishing to study in Dundalk while the local economy is bracing itself for an upturn in business as students descend upon the border town.
Local politicians have welcomed the expansion plan and believe it will be a positive move for Dundalk, which has suffered from years of economic misery.
“This new addition to DKIT will definitely be an advantage to the town,” says councillor Martin Bellow.
“It will generate more money, and more shops and housing will be needed which can only be a good thing.
“DKIT is already one of the biggest employers in Dundalk so we would welcome any addition to its campus.
“We lost our maternity unit here two years ago so the fact that it is a dedicated medical extension is also good news.”
The development is part of a drive to introduce several new courses to the institute, which already teaches subjects as diverse as business, science and engineering.
Although there are no plans at present to boost the number of places currently available on the Institute’s medical programme, DKIT bosses are hopeful that the opening of a dedicated nursing building, due to take place on Friday, April 29, will see an increase in applicants.
The institute’s border location has traditionally made it difficult to attract students, resulting in it having the highest number of initial vacancies of any state-funded college in August following the first round of CAO offers for non-degree courses.
The provision of bigger and better facilities means this could be set to change.
With Ireland’s population rapidly expanding, the need to recruit more nurses, particularly those trained in specific specialities, has never been greater.
“There are more than 700 nursing vacancies in the South of Ireland so we are talking about a massive shortage of nurses at present,” says Tony Fitzpatrick from the Irish Nurses Organization (INO).
“Because of changes to the training programme, which has seen a shift from a three-year diploma to a four-year degree, that shortage is set to increase further as, with the changeover, there won’t be any nurses graduating this year.”
Low pay and long days – a typical nurse works a 39-hour week compared to the average 35 hours – have also affected recruitment levels.
“It isn’t just a question of training more nurses and training them better, but also retaining them,” says Fitzpatrick.
“Hundreds have left the profession in the last year alone because they get more money overseas or in another job.
“Pay needs to be addressed and brought onto the same par as other medical services if new facilities, such as those in Dundalk, are to be properly utilised.”
The Irish Nurses Organization is hopeful that the new DKIT building will encourage similar investment elsewhere in Ireland, regenerating the nursing service and highlighting the problems it faces.
“This is a vital move,” says Fitzpatrick.
“It will make nursing more professional, helping employees feel more secure in their jobs and allowing them to specialise in different areas.
“The health service is dying at the moment due to overcrowding, a lack of resources and a dependancy on agency staff.
“Opening this new building will make people look at the state of nursing in Ireland and make changes to the way in which it is run.”
With most medical services still located further south - Galway, Cork and Dublin run undergraduate degrees in medicine while Dublin also boosts the Royal College of Surgeons – Institute bosses are hopeful that the new nursing building may encourage other training programmes to also ‘shift’ further north.
“Attracting potential nurses from the border areas is something the government should be looking very closely at,” says Fitzpatrick.
“Limiting courses to either Belfast or Dublin discourages people from applying but creating world-class facilities in Dundalk encourages more cross-border co-operation and gives students from the North and South an alternative place to study.”

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