Shocking number of nurses giving up jobs in Northern Ireland
Fears for health service as hundreds of downtrodden nurses walk away from job
THE number of nurses and midwives who are leaving the profession in Northern Ireland has risen by 50% in just four years, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Just under 600 nurses and midwives left the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register in 2013/14.
This increased to 928 in 2016/17, while a further 506 left the register in the first two quarters of 2017/18.
Janice Smyth, head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Northern Ireland, has warned that the situation will deteriorate this year as health professionals continue to face some of the most difficult working conditions in living memory.
"We need to stop the number of nurses and midwives haemorrhaging from the workforce," she said.
"We can see from the NMC register that the number of nurses who have just had enough and are leaving their jobs is increasing.
"In fact, they are actually increasing disproportionately compared to the rest of the UK.
"The fact is that nurses here cannot continue to work under the current conditions and we need to do something to address what is happening urgently.
"We are continually hearing from our members that they don't believe they are being treated with respect by those in charge.
"Pay is a massive issue for our members, but first and foremost is their desire to provide safe and effective care for patients and that is becoming increasingly impossible.
"The current pressures, the shortages and workplace environment are becoming unbearable for nurses and they are simply choosing to walk away to protect their own health."
Ms Smyth's comments come just weeks after a report by Northern Ireland's health watchdog revealed that staff at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children had reported major concerns about staff shortages.
During an inspection of two wards at the hospital in May last year, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) found there had been no ward sister in one unit for almost six months.
The inspection team was also told that senior nursing staff were carrying out administrative work at home.
It emerged the ward had recently lost six whole time equivalent (WTE) senior nursing staff and had four WTE nursing vacancies, while junior doctors said staff shortages "can frequently lead to delays in important aspects of patient care such as procedures or investigations performed".
Staffing levels were also raised as a major concern in the hospital's emergency department.
The RQIA team was told the "need for additional staff" had been "discussed with senior trust staff over 18 months ago".
However, the matter was still under review at the time of the inspection.
Ms Smyth added: "We need 2018 to be the year where services are transformed.
"Nurses have always been up for that, we are ready to engage with the decision makers to ensure the future of the health service in Northern Ireland.
"In saying that, we can't continue to be told that decisions can't be made because we don't have a Health Minister.
"Whether we have a local Assembly or a direct rule minister, we need leadership to make the changes required."
Meanwhile, Tom Sullivan from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) in Northern Ireland also said changes must be made to the way healthcare is delivered here.
Mr Sullivan said physiotherapists can play a vital role in helping to address the crisis facing general practice here.
Like nurses and midwives, family doctors are finding it increasingly difficult to meet demand.
Mr Sullivan said the CSP will continue to campaign for physiotherapists to become the first contact for people who are suffering from musculoskeletal health issues.
He said: "They are the most common cause of repeat GP appointments and account for around one in five of all appointments.
"Most of them can be dealt with effectively by a physiotherapist, without any need to see the GP.
"The CSP believes that too many people are left facing a distressing future dependent on health and social care, when access to high quality rehabilitation could have made an enormous difference to these people's lives."