Health chiefs hire admin workers to give nurses more time on wards
Health bosses are recruiting 10 administrative workers to allow nurses across Northern Ireland to spend more time treating patients.
The scheme is one of a number of measures being put in place by officials as they work to address a chronic shortage of nurses.
The programme is costing £150,000 and could be extended if it proves successful in cutting the amount of time ward sisters and charge nurses spend on paperwork.
Health trusts have already begun the recruitment process.
The scheme, which will see the administrative staff working in hospital wards and in the community, was revealed by Northern Ireland's chief nursing officer Charlotte McArdle.
She acknowledged that addressing the shortage of nurses in Northern Ireland must remain a priority.
Professor McArdle said: "It is also important that time is released from administrative duties to allow nurses to nurse. The department has funded a regional programme to free up ward sisters and charge nurses from administrative duties to focus on the clinical environment.
"The first phase will deliver 10 administrative support posts."
Details of the programme were revealed as it emerged there was a 15% increase in the number of the most seriously ill patients attending emergency departments between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day compared to the previous year.
The Health & Social Care Board said the sharp rise helped to explain the sustained pressure that all A&E departments were under over the holiday period.
Representatives from the main political parties met with Richard Pengelly, the Department of Health's permanent secretary, yesterday to allow him to provide a briefing on the issues facing the health service.
Politicians have come under fire for their failure to restore power-sharing, which would allow key decisions to be made to improve services.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Pengelly said: "Transformation offers the only way forward on tackling winter pressures and other serious problems in our health and social care system.
"We need to build up domiciliary care and other aspects of social care, enhance primary care to help people stay well and re-shape our hospital services.
"Looking to the future, it is clear that much more radical action is needed.
"We cannot consign our hospitals to a future where winter pressures simply intensify year on year and the whole system becomes steadily more unsustainable.
"There are no easy or short-term solutions, but we owe it to patients and our great staff to start making it better."
Following the meeting, SDLP health spokesman Mark H Durkan said he was delighted fresh talks aimed at resolving the political impasse were scheduled to begin next week and that he hoped this would result in the quick return of power-sharing.
"Patients cannot wait and nor can our frontline health service workers," Mr Durkan added.