Northern Ireland news


Five ICU nurses quit their jobs at Belfast trust in a fortnight as frontline pressures mount

The Northern Ireland health service is currently short of more than 2,500 nurses
Seanín Graham

FIVE intensive care nurses have quit their jobs at Northern Ireland's biggest health trust in a fortnight - with some seeking work in the private sector.

The Irish News has learned the departures took place at the Belfast health trust over the past month, and some other ICU nurses are considering their position due to "stress and burnout".

A trust spokesman was unable to comment on the resignations but said the pandemic had placed "considerable pressure on the health service" and required "additional ICU capacity going into the winter period".

"This will continue to have an impact on our staff," he added.

"Belfast Trust is committed to supporting the health and wellbeing of all our staff and provide a range of resources in order to ensure staff receive support when they need it."

The development comes exactly a year since The Irish News reported the loss of 15 ICU nurses in a six-month period.

Some left the profession altogether and worked in supermarkets. One nurse became a professional dog walker.

Kieran McCormick, managing director of a private recruitment agency for healthcare professionals, said he had been contacted by some of the affected staff.

Mr McCormick insisted it was not just about pay but work conditions.

While ICU nursing is normally one-on-one, there are mounting concerns that staff are "quite often" caring for two critically ill patients at a time.

"Some of these ICU nurses are being paid £15 an hour for having someone's life in their hands," Mr McCormick, who heads up Balmoral Health, said.

"But the pay dispute is only part of it. Their other frustration is that while they really appreciate help being sent from other parts of the trust, the people they are sending in are not ICU trained.

"Those who work in that area are burdened with have having to shadow, supervise, guide and train less skilled colleagues. Unfortunately for those people who do work there that's another level of responsibility."

The health service is currently short of more than 2,500 nurses.

In an interview with The Irish News this month, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) director Rita Devlin warned about the loss of highly skilled staff.

She revealed that some hospital wards were being run with 20 per cent sickness absence.

"We have challenged the health minister about what he is going to do to retain nurses - not just recruit them - as the people we're afraid of losing are very experienced staff," Ms Devlin said.

"He has agreed a retention strategy. For some nurses it is about better pay, but that is not all. A recent survey we did showed one of the big issues was career progression. Band 5 is the lowest entry level and some highly skilled nurse have been band 5 for years.

"We do not believe nursing is a band 5 occupation."

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