£5 million cash injection to increase nursing places will not be felt for another three years
NORTHERN Ireland's biggest nursing union has welcomed a multi-million pound investment towards the creation of almost 100 new trainee university places - but warned it will take until at least 2021 for any benefits to be felt.
Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), was reacting to a Department of Health pledge to inject £5m towards the sector, which will lead to an additional 74 undergraduate nurses and 25 student midwives.
The announcement comes a year after the Department was forced to perform an embarrassing u-turn over its controversial plan to axe £1m from an Ulster University fund to train specialist nurses.
Ms Smyth said the new money means that the total number of student nurses in Northern Ireland will now be at its highest - there will a total of 1000 in 2018/19 - but comes after years of successive cuts to trainee places under UUP and DUP health ministers.
"Any increase is welcome toward funding our pre-registration places but the problem is that we have got ourselves into a vicious circle," she said.
"Due to cost-cutting plans there have been increased cuts to nursing places and jobs...and this has happened at a time of more demands.
"The result is that we have become absolutely dependent on nurses being supplied through agencies where they are being paid two to three times more than those in health trusts. The shortages are putting additional pressure on staff with sick leave at nearly 10 per cent.
"The only way to resolve this is through additional placements. But the issue is that these nurses will not be graduating until September 2021 and will not be in the workforce until then."
The Department's 'workforce' monies is part of a £100m 'transformation' pot allocated through the DUP pact with the Tory government and was rolled out as part of a 10-year plan to improve staffing levels.
In addition to funding, the report also interviewed healthcare staff about their concerns and discovered there were fears and "uncertainty" about the impact of hiring EU colleagues post-Brexit.
Nurses and doctors who live across the border, but currently work in the region, are "anxious" and want reassurance, the research found.
Yesterday's announcement coincided with the third day of the annual RCN congress, which is being held in Belfast for the first time and is attended by hundreds of nurses from across the entire NHS.
One of the motions put forward included the difficulties in the recruitment and retention of nurses.