SIPTU has written to the Minister for Health, James Reilly, requesting a meeting to discuss alternative proposals for savings in the health sector and the ending of the graduate nursing scheme. SIPTU Sector Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “A letter sent to the Minister today (4th February) on behalf of the SIPTU Nurse and Midwife Sector Committee requests an urgent meeting to discuss the ending of the graduate nursing scheme and our alternative cost saving proposals.”“The necessary savings in this sector can be made without degrading the nursing profession by paying new entrants only 80% of the agreed nursing salary scale. For instance, immediate savings could be made by the Health Service Executive (HSE) employing nurses directly rather than through agencies which results in unnecessary expenditure on agency fees. The current HSE expenditure on agency nurses is in the region of €90 million and we estimate that this can be reduced by over 20% if nurses were directly employed.”He added: “SIPTU believes that the Department of Health and the HSE must withdraw from the graduate nursing scheme and that engagement between the stakeholders must take place in order to ensure that the necessary recruitment of new nurses and midwives provides for the respect of their own position within the service.”It is estimated that less than 100 graduates have applied to take part in the nursing graduate scheme which offers successful candidates €21,700 per annum against the agreed rate for new entrants of €27,234 which is paid to all nurses and midwives employed since 1st January 2011. The HSE stated that it planned to recruit 1,000 graduate midwives and nurses through the scheme.