Nursing shortage across Northern Ireland as over 1,400 posts remain unfilled
More than 500 nursing jobs are unfilled in Belfast, as health trusts struggle to fill medical positions across Northern Ireland.
In total more than 1,400 posts lie vacant and the latest figures show a 20% increase in the number of nurses leaving their jobs over the last two years - with almost 1,000 leaving in 2016/17.
SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said he was shocked by the figures, and said the "current political landscape" isn't helping.
The figures from the Department of Health revealed that after Belfast -which has a shortage of 532 nurses - the Northern Trust has 286 vacancies and the South Eastern Trust has 262 posts to fill.
The Southern Trust is short of 201 nurses while the Western Trust needs to recruit another 118.
Regional services had four nursing vacancies to fill at the end of September.
"Nursing care is the very bedrock of the health system and it is very concerning to see a 20% increase in the number of nurses leaving over the last two years," said Mr McCrossan.
"This is compounded by the fact that there are almost 1,500 vacancies within the profession in Northern Ireland. Nurses are working under considerable and intolerable pressures.
"I think it is no coincidence that the numbers leaving have risen as patient demand and waiting times have increased.
"We often see hospital waiting list figures but never imagine the increased stress and workload it puts on staff.
"The current political landscape is definitely having an impact on staff recruitment, retention and overall job satisfaction. Nurses are over-worked and underpaid in comparison to their GB counterparts.
"I've even become aware that many have left HSC to take up roles within the Department of Communities, in PIP assessment panels. They want 'nine to five' without the pressure and added hours."
Mr McCrossan, who has family members working in nursing, said he had spoken to representatives from the Royal College of Nursing last year - but things have deteriorated even further since then.
"Even at that stage, there were grave concerns among nurses, and things are even worse now," he said. "The fact is although the figures are shocking, I can understand why nurses don't want to stay in the profession as things stand.
"The whole of the NHS is under pressure but in the absence of a devolved government here, little can be done to help our own medical professionals and they are being left in an even more difficult position than their colleagues elsewhere in the UK."
The MLA for West Tyrone said he had been moved by an emotional message he saw this week on Twitter, which read: "My Daddy has dementia and every night his carer sings and dances with him, no matter what mood she is in or how short on time she is, and all for rubbish pay.
"To all you nurses, home helps and carers out there, you're worth your weight in gold."
Mr McCrossan said: "That for me sums up what nurses do, and we need to make sure they are properly valued and looked after in the system. We can't let these people go."
Statistics also released to Mr McCrossan revealed more than 10% of hours were lost to sickness absence in the NI Ambulance Service every year after 2014/15.
And in 2015/16, 783 nurses and 111 doctors left the Health and Social Care Trust. The following year, those figures rose to 929 nurses and 119 doctors.