Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD have today announced a significant increase in the number of third level places available in healthcare courses, including therapy places to support disability services.

From September, this will include:

  • An increase of 100 places in the undergraduate intake in key therapies, including 50 places available in Northern Ireland;
  • The roll-out of Post-Leaving Cert courses to train speech and language therapist assistants in five Education and Training Boards, with an estimated 120 students expected on these programmes.
  • The provision of 665 additional places in medicine, nursing, pharmacy and other key healthcare courses, including 200 places in nursing in Northern Ireland.

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Minister Harris also confirmed the Higher Education Authority will be overseeing a process to identify how capacity can be expanded in the therapy disciplines on a sustainable basis. This follows on from an earlier process to identify additional capacity in medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy and veterinary, and will take place later this year.

Following engagement between Queens University and Ulster University, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, and the Departments of Health both North and South, 200 places in nursing will be made available to students from the Republic of Ireland to be funded by the Department of Health. 

It is proposed that the students would avail of these places on the same terms and conditions as other students on the programmes.

A further 50 places will be available in therapy disciplines in Ulster University – 20 places in occupational therapy and physiotherapy, and 10 places in speech and language therapy.

Welcoming the increase in places, Minister Harris said: 

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Increasing the workforce is absolutely essential to addressing demands in the healthcare system and to improving access to the services people rely on. 

The further and higher education sector has a critical role to play in ensuring that our healthcare services have the staff they need to deliver the care that people need, and these places are an important step in that direction. 

I am delighted to see the provision of places in Northern Ireland for students from the Republic of Ireland. This is a great example of North-South collaboration to the benefit of all involved, and my officials will continue to work to build our relationships with higher education institutions in the North.

I very much welcome the engagement of our universities in response to the call for additional capacity and look forward to building on the expansion announced today. 

Later this year, we will, in consultation with colleagues, initiate a process to increase places in the therapy disciplines on a more sustainable basis. 

I look forward to continuing to work with colleagues to address these issues.

Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD said: 

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I very much welcome the provision of additional training places in Nursing and Midwifery and Health and Social Care Professions in September 2023. 

Increasing the future supply of health care workers is critical to addressing the workforce needs for our health service. This will build future workforce capacity to meet demand for health services.

Working with the Higher Education Sector I am seeking to double the number of undergraduate training places across Medicine, Nursing and Midwifery and Health and Social Care Professions to meet the health workforce needs of our population.

Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Minister Roderic O’Gorman TD said: 

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Increasing the supply of therapists is the best way of ensuring that the HSE can deliver much needed interventions for children and cut the waiting lists for Assessment of Need. 

This is my key priority since responsibility for disability services transferred to my Department in March. I welcome today’s announcement and I will continue to work across Government to grow the numbers of therapists that we are training”.

Minister for Disability, Anne Rabbitte TD said 

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The increase in places being made available at further and higher level is very much welcome, and in the context of disability services specifically, this is the first of many steps to improve the future of the workforce in the sector.

The cornerstone of our disability services is our staff, whether that’s in adult services or through the delivery of therapies on our Children’s Disability Network Teams around the country. By adding these places to those already available shows the government is actively working to widen the potential pool of staff available in these key therapies.

It’s important that we have a clear pipeline of appropriately qualified people and today’s announcement demonstrates how we’re going in the right direction to bolster the potential staff available to support people. Over the months ahead, I will be chairing a cross departmental group on workforce planning in the disability sector specifically and look forward to working with my ministerial colleagues in Health and Further and Higher Education specifically to ensure the government is doing all it can to attract staff into a career in the disability sector.

 

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