The Health & Care Sector in the Western Region

Today we published the second in our series of ‘Regional Sectoral Profiles’ analysing employment and enterprise data for the Western Region on specific economic sectors and identifying key policy issues. The new report examines the Health & Care Sector, the Western Region’s third largest employer.

The full report ‘The Health & Care Sector in the Western Region: Regional Sectoral Profile’ and the two-pageWDC Insights: The Health & Care Sector in the Western Region’ which summarises the key points can be downloaded here

Health & Care is a broad sector including all those working in hospitals, nursing homes, crèches, day facilities, dental, medical and physiotherapist practices etc.  It includes professional healthcare occupations e.g. nurses, doctors, as well as clerical and administrative roles and care assistants, home carers, childminders and childcare workers.

Discussions of the Health & Care sector generally focus on provision of vital healthcare services. This ‘Regional Sectoral Profile’ however focuses on its role as a key economic sector and regional employer.

Employment & Enterprise in Health & Care

A few of the key findings from the report on employment and enterprise in the sector include:

  • 42,027 people were employed in the Health & Care sector in the Western Region in 2016. This was 12.6% of total employment in the region, higher than the 11.1% share nationally.
  • At 15.5% of all employment, Sligo has the highest share working in this sector in the country, while Leitrim (13.5%) has the second highest share nationally with Galway City and Galway County (both 13%) jointly fourth.
  • Health & Care is the largest employment sector for six out of the region’s 40 urban centres – Letterkenny, Sligo, Ballinasloe, Bearna, Strandhill and Collooney. It must be notes that this data refers to residents of the towns, although some may travel to work elsewhere and proximity to a large hospital is a key factor.
  • The number of people working in Health & Care in the Western Region grew by 14.8% between 2011 and 2016, close to double the growth of total employment in the region (7.5%). All western counties experienced far stronger growth in Health & Care jobs than in jobs generally
  • ‘Residential care & social work’ (nursing homes, crèches, home care) is the largest element of Health & Care in the Western Region accounting for 47.6% of all employment in the sector. ‘Hospital activities’ is next largest (37.2%).
  • 4% of all working women in the Western Region work in Health & Care and it is the largest employment sector for women in the region.
  • In 2016 there were 3,485 Health & Care enterprises registered in the Western Region; that was 6.4% of total enterprises in that year.
  • Sligo (7.8%) and Galway (7.6%) have the highest shares of enterprises in Health & Care across all counties in Ireland, again reinforcing the substantial role played by the sector in the region’s economy.

Key Policy Issues for the Western Region’s Health & Care Sector

As the third largest employer in the Western Region and an area showing strong jobs growth in recent years, the Health & Care sector plays a pivotal role in the regional economy, in addition to providing vital services. Therefore future trends in the sector will have significant regional implications.

Higher reliance on Health & Care in the Western Region:  Health & Care is a more significant employer in the Western Region than nationally.  It plays a critical role in providing opportunities for professional careers, especially in more rural areas where there may be fewer alternatives. It also offers jobs at lower skill levels which are important in providing employment for all sections of the labour force. However this greater reliance on the sector in the region increases its vulnerability to any jobs decline.  While the primary policy focus for Health & Care must be on the provision of quality services, the sector’s parallel role as a provider of jobs, particularly in the Western Region, should also be a factor in policy decisions.

Central role in female employment: The Health & Care sector is the largest employer of women in the Western Region and any future developments in this sector will have a far greater impact on female than male employment levels.

Key driver of job creation: Employment growth in Health & Care in the Western Region was almost twice the region’s average employment growth (2011-2016).  Its role may often be overlooked in debates on recent job creation trends, with more focus on exporting and high-tech businesses.  The role of Health & Care in job creation, as well as future growth opportunities in the sector, should be fully explored in national, regional and local economic development strategies.

An ageing population and growing demand:  Over 16% of the population of Mayo, Leitrim, Roscommon and Sligo are aged 65+ years.  Increased longevity means there is a growing share among the ‘older old’ (80+) with Roscommon (4.4%), Leitrim (4.3%) and Mayo (4.25) the highest in the state.  ‘Residential care & social work’ grew by almost a quarter in the Western Region (2011-2016).  Responding to the needs of an ageing population is one of the greatest challenges facing the Health & Care sector and significant job and growth opportunities exist in effectively meeting this challenge. The Western Region’s older age profile and high level of rurality means it is at the forefront of this growing demand and has an opportunity to develop new and innovative solutions such as learning from successful models across Europe.

Loss of rural GP practices: ‘Medical practice’ was the only Health & Care sub-sector which saw a decline in employment.  It is estimated that 50% of GPs in Leitrim will retire over the next five to seven years, 41% in Mayo and 38% in Roscommon.  If reported difficulties in finding GP replacements persist, this could mean that medical practices in neighbouring towns and villages may close.  The impact on the delivery of health services in rural areas of the loss of medical practices needs to be considered in Government policy, with options such as online delivery of GP services explored as part of the solution.

Skill shortages:  A number of skill shortages exist in the sector and healthcare professionals (nurses, doctors) accounted for a higher share of all employment permits (for non-EU residents) issued for the West and Border regions than nationally.  Care workers and childminders are occupations characterised by high turnover and some employers may be experiencing difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified care and childcare workers. Changing demographics, along with Government policy, will impact on the demand for Health & Care skills.  Initiatives to increase the number of people with qualifications in care, as well as to improve working conditions and increase its attractiveness as a job option, are important for the sector’s capacity to meet future needs.

Download the full report ‘The Health & Care Sector in the Western Region: Regional Sectoral Profile’ and the two-pageWDC Insights: The Health & Care Sector in the Western Region’ which summarises the key points, here