Philippines mission to recruit 1,000 nurses for Northern Ireland
Health officials from Northern Ireland are due to arrive in the Philippines today as part of a bid to recruit up to 1,000 nurses to work in our health service.
The move - the first leg of an international recruitment campaign - has been prompted by an acute shortage of nurses in the province.
And with hundreds of them due to retire over the next year, health bosses believe the answer to the growing problem may lie overseas.
In March the Belfast Telegraph revealed that an astonishing £400,000 was spent here every day by the health service on agency workers.
In the 12 months to April 2015 a total of £140,607,692 was spent on agency staff.
In the same period the Belfast Trust - Northern Ireland's largest trust - spent just over £47m on agency staff.
The Northern Trust allocated £28.7m, while the Western Trust's bill topped £25m.
Agency nurses at one health trust were paid up to £87 an hour.
Officials hope to recruit 300 nurses in the Philippines, as well as an additional 700 this month and next in trips to Italy and Romania.
Two international recruitment companies - TTM and HCL - have been awarded the tenders to undertake the drive.
The successful applicants will initially be employed by the Health And Social Care service in Northern Ireland as Band 3 nursing support staff until they become fully registered.
The recruitment drive in the Philippines this week is for jobs in all the province's health trusts.
There will be another in Romania later this month for the Belfast, South Eastern and Northern Trusts.
In Italy the recruitment drive will take place next month for posts in the Western and Southern Trusts.
Earlier this month the Health and Social Care service said there was "much work ongoing at a local level to make every effort to attract existing students and encourage those who have previously lived or worked in Northern Ireland back to work here".
The successful applicants from the Philippines, Italy and Romania will receive English language training and examination.
The European recruitment is expected to last 39 weeks and the Philippines recruitment is estimated to take up to 48 weeks.
In February an investigation by the BBC found there were more than 850 nursing vacancies across four of Northern Ireland's five health trusts.
Figures also revealed there were 243 doctor vacancies.
Nursing vacancies at the Southern Health Trust went up by 1,000% in two years - from 19 to 226.
The Belfast Trust reported more than 500 available nursing positions and 113 unfilled doctors' posts.