Dental school student boost planned

Options to expand third level places for healthcare and veterinary medicine have been announced by Ireland’s ministers for health and higher education.

The Higher Education Authority was tasked by the Department of Further and Higher Education to establish how additional capacity might be provided. It found that, with investment, an additional 208 doctors, 692 nurses, 196 pharmacists, 63 dentists and 230 vets could potentially be trained annually.

These options could result in an increase of up to 5,000 in total third-level enrolments in these disciplines. The increase is subject to a forthcoming process which will cross-reference available options with the ongoing demand in the veterinary and healthcare areas and to agree costs and funding.

Simon Harris, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, said: “This is an important moment for the delivery of healthcare and veterinary medicine. Through a very inclusive and expansive process, the Government has identified a significant increase in capacity across these key disciplines.

“My department will now work with the Departments of Health and Agriculture to bring these proposals forward. Each will be subjected to a process and investment will be subject to the normal procedures.

“However, this could lead to an unprecedented change in the number of graduates in these key skills areas in the coming years and will help the health and agriculture sector begin to address workforce shortage issues.”

Stephen Donnelly, the Minister for Health, said: “I have set the ambitious target of doubling the number of student places across the full range of essential health professions to meet our health workforce and patient care needs.

“We cannot continue to rely on recruitment from around the world to meet the healthcare workforce needs of our growing and aging population. This planned student expansion is an important step in addressing the needs of our health service and achieving health workforce sustainability for Ireland.”

The Government agreed to advance the process with investment to be considered in the context of budgetary processes and the National Development Plan review. Individual projects will be subject to the usual appraisals to ensure value for money.

Dr Eamon Croke, President of the Irish Dental Association (IDA), said: “We are cautiously optimistic for what today’s announcement means for Irish school leavers wishing to practice dentistry here in Ireland and, most importantly, for patients and people who have been struggling to access dental services and treatments right across the country.

“We welcome Minister Harris and his Department’s intervention and the work that has been happening with the HEA and our academic institutes.

“While it is not the only factor, the decades of under investment in our dental schools has absolutely contributed to the lack of dental graduates coming through the system each year, the results of which we are now seeing and feeling in the overall staffing and resourcing crisis facing dentists and dental patients.

“We now need to ensure that this plan gets the necessary investment by Government as part of budgetary considerations so that today doesn’t become another finger in the dam of a much bigger disaster.”

Published: 22 June, 2023 at 09:15