Leading article

Minister has to halt the nursing brain drain

The fact that some of our highly qualified medical and nursing staff choose to leave Northern Ireland to pursue their careers is nothing new.

Some will want to spend time in other countries broadening their knowledge, eventually returning and using their enhanced skills for the benefit of local patients.

Others will decide to stay away entirely, for family, financial or career reasons.

However, when the number of staff leaving turns from a trickle to a flood then the health service in Northern Ireland is clearly facing some serious questions.

A leaked Department of Health report on the north's nursing workforce reveals graduates' concern at the recruitment process and lack of career opportunities. They also point to the perception that nursing is viewed more favourably in other countries.

The document says 21 per cent of Queen's University graduates left the north in 2011/12, up from 10 per cent in 2009/10.

But the Royal College of Nursing believes the figure leaving is much higher - close to a third of all newly qualified nurses.

This is clearly a major issue, particularly when we take into account the £33,000 cost of training a nurse.

At a time when nurse graduates are looking elsewhere for jobs, £50 million has been spent over the past five years hiring agency workers because of staff shortages.

The reality is that our highly trained nurses are in demand with health authorities in Britain, the Republic, the United States and Canada offering attractive schemes in a bid to lure staff.

It makes little sense to spend public money training nurses then not ensuring there are appropriate career opportunities in Northern Ireland.

As we know, there are also problems facing the GP service with many doctors heading overseas.

Reducing the exodus of skilled staff is one of the key issues facing the new health minister.

Leading article

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