Northern Ireland nurses 'face £1k costs for returning to profession'
Nurses from Northern Ireland wanting to return to the profession are running up bills of £1,000 to get back into work, it has been claimed.
At the same time, nurses coming here from Europe to help bolster the workforce are receiving financial assistance until they reach minimum safety standards.
A former nurse has hit out at the situation and said health bosses should be doing more to help people from here to return to nursing.
She spoke out after Northern Ireland's chief nursing officer revealed a decision has been taken to launch an overseas recruitment programme.
Charlotte McArdle said 600 nurses are to be recruited from the Philippines and India to try and alleviate the chronic shortage here.
Professor McArdle also denied there is a crisis in Northern Ireland's emergency departments.
She made the claim despite the fact people with life-threatening conditions have been forced to spend days in A&Es waiting for a hospital bed.
It has also emerged that one casualty ran out of portable oxygen and emergency care nurses were regularly left in tears over the Christmas period.
In response to Prof McArdle's comments, a former nurse said: "Perhaps she should look at the mandatory requirements for return to practice for nurses in Northern Ireland before going on a recruitment drive to the Philippines.
"Currently it can take almost two years from first enquiry until re-registration.
"Ulster University were only able to offer 30 places, despite 68 nurses applying for the course.
"These nurses are required to complete 10 weeks of unpaid clinical practice and must be able to undertake 12-hour shifts, irrespective of their circumstances.
"Is Prof McArdle aware that the costs of occupational health assessments and vaccinations must be paid for by the nurses, that they must buy their own uniforms and incur other costs in order to get back on the register?
"Taking childcare and travel costs to unpaid placements into account, the cost of this course could run into over £1,000.
"Those starting the course in January will not be able to register until June and therefore will not be able to get employment as a nurse until after that date.
"Sorting out this situation would be a good starting point to getting 68 nurses into the workforce very quickly.
"It also should be remembered that most of these nurses will be experienced and would bring a lot to the NHS."
The head of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland has called for the situation to be addressed.
Janice Smyth said: "When a nurse comes here from Europe they are paid as healthcare assistants until they can meet the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) requirements relating to the English language.
"This clearly demonstrates that there is an inequality and that is something that needs to be looked at.
"Secondly, if there are 68 nurses wanting to come back to the profession, then we need to look at the number of return to practice places the Department of Health is funding."
A spokeswoman from the Department said the number of spaces on the Ulster University return to practice nursing programme is dependent on available resources.
"Demand for places on the programme this year has been greater than the number of funded places available," she said. "Not everyone who applies is successful in gaining a place, as candidates must pass an interview, which is a requirement of the nursing regulator."