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Staff commuting 2½ hours to work in National Maternity Hospital due to Dublin housing costs

Some employees travelling from as far away as Armagh, says master Prof Shane Higgins

Staff at the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) are commuting to work for up to 2½ hours a day because they cannot afford to live in Dublin, according to the master of the hospital.

A lack of affordable accommodation in the capital had led to some employees travelling to work from as far away as Armagh, Prof Shane Higgins said.

Despite being a training hospital for undergraduate and graduate midwifery courses, the hospital has about 50 unfilled posts, due to the difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff.

“People are going to Australia and New Zealand, as you’d expect them to do. But we’re also seeing a lot of staff saying they just can’t afford to live in Dublin,” Prof Higgins said.


“At the end of the day, they decide it’s just too much for them to be commuting for hours and they take a job more locally, where the pay is the same but the cost of living and of housing is much lower and they don’t have the transport costs.”

The NMH has rented three houses on a bus corridor in South Dublin to provide accommodation for up to three months for new staff arriving from overseas.

With staff on long shifts finishing work at 8.30pm at night and starting work again at 7.30am the following day, the hospital has tried to secure short-let accommodation nearby. “We’ve looked at bed and breakfasts, we’ve looked at hotels, but at €120-150 a night minimum we can’t afford them,” Prof Higgins said.

“We’ve advocated for a Dublin weighting allowance for staff as they do in London, but that’s not just going to impact midwives. If you give it to midwives, what about the fire brigade, the ambulance drivers, the teachers?”

Ideally, Prof Higgins said, the hospital would have access to a block with up to 15 bedrooms where staff could be provided with safe, affordable accommodation for a couple of nights a week, without the need for long commutes.

Last month, The Irish Times reported that some staff at the Rotunda Hospital are commuting from their homes in Germany and Spain because of the cost of accommodation in Dublin.

Although the planned move of the NMH to the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus is going ahead, it is unlikely to be completed until 2030 at the earliest, Prof Higgins acknowledged.

To meet the needs of women using the hospital until then, it is seeking to make improvements to the current hospital on Holles Street, where some buildings date back almost a century and up to 14 women are accommodated in the one ward.

The hospital, part of which is a protected structure, is in discussions with Dublin City Council about the installation of an outdoor lift on its Holles Street facade, which is not protected. At present, patients on hospital beds have to be transferred to a trolley before they can be transferred between floors.

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Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times