Health watchdog warning over nursing shortage welcomed by union chief
AN unprecedented warning by the health service regulator over nursing shortages in Northern Ireland has sparked urgent calls for better workforce planning.
The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) has formally notified Department of Health chiefs of its concerns after several hospital and nursing home inspections discovered a big reliance on agency or temporary staff.
The Royal College of Nursing trade union estimates there are more than 1,500 vacancies across the north.
Olive Macleod, RQIA's chief executive, said the shortage was impacting on patient care.
She told the BBC it was their duty to flag concerns to the department and said it was a "significant message" for them.
"We are beginning to see big gaps in rotas and nursing home settings and this potentially will have an impact on care," she said.
Janice Smyth of the Royal College of Nursing welcomed the intervention, saying the union had repeatedly warned of a crisis.
She accused the department of failing to assess nursing requirements for the private care home sector in its last major workforce plan published last year, which set proposed training places in nursing and midwifery for 2015- 2025.
"I had helped to work on that plan and raised concerns as to why there was no analysis around the private sector," Ms Smyth said.
"We carried out our survey in the college around 2013/14 and at that time there was over 500 vacancies in the independent sector... We've got the health regulator saying homes are closing and this is having an impact on the acute sector, as patients cannot get discharged from hospital as there is no nursing home places."
The union chief said a proper assessment of private sector shortages was required so the department can quantify demand for student nurse places - which it funds.
The news comes as it emerged a children's hospice in Co Fermanagh has been suspended and may have to close due to a lack of specialist nurses.
The Horizon West children's hospice near Enniskillen was opened in 2012.
Nine paediatric nurses are needed to operate the service.
The Department of Health said it has tried to recruit nurses but pointed out there is a shortage.
The Chief Executive of NI Hospice Heather Weir told the BBC the closure would have a "devastating" impact on families.
"It means families will have to travel from Fermanagh...to Newtownabbey for care," she said.
Earlier this month, The Irish News revealed a ten-year plan to radically improve the lives of terminally children and their families across Northern Ireland has been shelved by the Department of Health due to funding shortages.