Thousands of staff have quit health trusts in Northern Ireland as the Covid pandemic has pushed workers to exhaustion and pressure continues to mount on workers.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) NI and British Medical Association (BMA) suspect vacancy numbers could be even higher and have cited “workload and personal wellbeing”, as well as “pay and remuneration”, as the main reasons for staff leaving.
Stark figures obtained following Freedom of Information (FOI) requests come at a time when there are fears the new Omicron variant could have a significant impact on health and social care staff.
There are 6,162 active vacancies in Northern Ireland health trusts, including vacancies for at least 164 consultant and speciality doctors.
Across NI Trusts in the past two years there have been 10,165 leavers, excluding the Northern Trust as figures have not been received at this time.
The highest number of vacancies is in the Belfast Trust area where 1,552 roles were being actively recruited as of September 30, 2021.
At the same Trust, 3,107 staff members have left in the past two years. In 2020/21 and 2021/22, the Belfast Trust recorded that 1,361 nurses and midwives left their roles. Of those, 300 resigned in the past year and 362 left in 2020/21.
In addition, 219 doctors and dentists left, of which 75 resigned. The Belfast Trust says it has welcomed 4,530 new employees in 2020/21 and 2021/22.
More workers resigned — 731 — in the Southern Trust between January and September 2021 than have done in each year from 2017 to 2020.
In the Western Trust, 2,004 healthcare workers have left in total from January until November 26, 2021 – including 1,033 resignations.
Of all leavers, 812 were nurses and midwives, 396 of whom resigned, while 413 retired.
Others left for a variety of reasons including ill-health and the end of contracts. Some 119 medical and dental staff also left.
In the South Eastern Trust area, 2,189 have left over the past two years, 1,068 of whom resigned. Again, those from nursing and midwifery professions accounted for a significant proportion of leavers, with 383 resigning and 761 exiting overall when retirements and other reasons are factored in.
In the medical and dental sector, 243 permanent and temporary staff left the South Eastern Trust in 2020 and a further 33 in 2021.
Rita Devlin, director of the RCN NI said the most recent HSC vacancy figures from September of this year revealed there were 2,270 nursing vacancies in Northern Ireland.
However, in addition, they have also received reports of many nursing staff — often highly skilled and specialist nurses who are very hard to replace — leaving recently.
"This is an issue the RCN has been raising consistently with employers and the Department of Health (DoH),” she added.
Dr David Farren, BMA NI consultants committee chair said the DoH needs to prioritise and fund a comprehensive workforce planning strategy to address staffing gaps.
He called for reform of the current pension taxation system that imposes unfair financial penalties on doctors working extra shifts to cover staffing gaps and drive down waiting lists, a taxation he says is forcing many doctors into taking early retirement or to cut down their hours.
“More and more doctors are leaving or thinking about leaving. Some will go elsewhere, for example in the Republic of Ireland, or they are taking early retirement,” he added.
The Department of Health was contacted for comment but none was provided at the time of publication.