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Extra nurse training places a welcome step

The health minister's decision to increase the number of nurse training places in Northern Ireland is a move in the right direction in terms of tackling staffing problems in the health service.

Simon Hamilton has made an additional 100 places available from the autumn, which is an increase of 15 per cent.

This development is hopefully a recognition that the authorities need to invest in training to ensure we have sufficient staff with the necessary skills to take on a range of roles in a modern health and social care system.

But while these additional places are welcome, it is only part of a more complex picture that needs to be addressed.

Concerns have been raised over the number of newly qualified nurses leaving Northern Ireland because of a shortage of permanent jobs.

Last year it was estimated that a third of recent graduates took up posts outside the north, many of them attracted by lucrative packages being offered in England, Wales, the Republic and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, health trusts have been spending huge sums on temporary staff to fill gaps in rotas.

Figures released last year showed employing bank nurses cost almost £130 million over a three year period. This was in addition to £50 million spent on private agency nurses over five years.

Of course, there are times when hospitals have to call on bank nurses to ensure they have enough staff to look after patients and we do need some flexibility in our system.

The worry is when there is an over-reliance on temporary staff, who through no fault of their own may not have the precise skills and experience for a particular role, nor can they provide the continuity and build up the knowledge that comes with working as part of a team over a period of time.

Extra training places are indeed a positive step but this announcement needs to be part of a wider strategy on future nursing levels.

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