Ulster Unionist Health Spokesperson Roy Beggs MLA has warned that the number of vacant posts across the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care system now constitutes a serious public safety issue.
Mr Beggs was commenting after it was confirmed to the Ulster Unionist Party that at the end of June this year, there were almost 7,500 vacancies actively being recruited for locally. Vacancy levels have steadily increased, doubling since March 2017. The overall tally includes key frontline positions such as 2,482 vacant nursing posts, 704 allied health professionals, 654 carers, 454 nursing assistants, 413 social workers, 292 doctors and 120 pharmacists.
Roy Beggs MLA said:
“This is a serious crisis and it demonstrates the extent and scale of the frightening pressure our local health service is under.
“There is no doubt that staff shortages of this magnitude are having an impact on patient care and safety. It’s also inevitably a further reason as to why our waiting lists are so appalling as appointments, operations and procedures cannot go ahead and are often cancelled at short notice due to a shortage of available staff.
“Patients who are medically fit to leave hospital are also being left trapped on hospital beds as there are simply not enough care packages available in the community, again often due to a shortage of staff.
“Some of these empty posts are being temporarily filled with agency staff – but this is only draining vast sums of money away from other areas of patient care and is doing nothing whatsoever to resolve the wider problem of so many vacant posts.
“We need effective workforce planning and recruitment. I have repeatedly warned over recent years that our local health service does not have the capacity nor resources to meet rising demand. It is all fine and well focusing on isolated parts of the local system that can be reformed or reorganised, but until we actually start reinvesting in more permanent staff, hospital beds and theatre space, then the problem we are experiencing locally of demand exceeding capacity will only continue to get worse.
“It’s about time that the scale of so many missing staff in the five Health and Social Care Trusts came as a wakeup call to the Department of Health. The Department needs to recognise the scale of the recruitment crisis and must put in place more long-term workforce planning. Funding should be spent on recruiting permanent staff instead of paying extortionate agency prices. Until this occurs I fear the current workers will be stretched even more thinly, compounding the problem we already have with staff retention.”