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Nurse redeployment warning: patients now face dire consequences

Staff and patients in acute and community services could see weeks of disruption as trust struggles to cover nursing shifts, and union calls for urgent action
Royal Victoria Hospital, run by Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Staff and patients in acute and community services could see weeks of disruption as trust struggles to cover nursing shifts, and union calls for urgent action

The redeployment of nurses to cover exceptionally high staff absence due to COVID-19 has left patients at Belfast hospitals facing ‘dire’ circumstances.

Figures from 14 January show around 2,300 Belfast Health and Social Care Trust staff were off sick , with just under half off work for COVID-related reasons. The figures amount to almost 11% of the workforce.

Staffing priorities to reflect clinical need

Trust chief executive Cathy Jack emailed staff this week to say redeployment of staff to

Staff and patients in acute and community services could see weeks of disruption as trust struggles to cover nursing shifts, and union calls for urgent action

Royal Victoria Hospital, run by Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
Royal Victoria Hospital, one of Belfast Health and Social Care Trust’s acute hospitals Picture: Alamy

The redeployment of nurses to cover exceptionally high staff absence due to COVID-19 has left patients at Belfast hospitals facing ‘dire’ circumstances.

Figures from 14 January show around 2,300 Belfast Health and Social Care Trust staff were off sick, with just under half off work for COVID-related reasons. The figures amount to almost 11% of the workforce.

Staffing priorities to reflect clinical need

Trust chief executive Cathy Jack emailed staff this week to say redeployment of staff to areas that need extra support could disrupt patient services for the next six weeks.

‘To manage exceptionally high staff absence Belfast Trust may again need to redeploy qualified staff who are currently working in other roles and ask that they go back into critical community services or on to certain wards,’ she said.

Dr Jack said redeployment would be prioritised by clinical need and warned some services would be affected.

‘Lack of learning’ from earlier waves of the pandemic

But the RCN in Northern Ireland warned cancelling services, combined with high staff absences and long-term vacancies, could cause dire consequences for patients.

RCN Northern Ireland director Rita Devlin said: ‘Despite plenty of evidence, there appears to be a lack of learning from previous waves of the pandemic and nearly two years later we are in a worse position than ever.

‘Our members are telling us, with so many staff absent, they are struggling to treat their patients safely. We need a clear plan of action, and we need it quickly.’

Latest data suggest there are 2,340 nursing vacancies in Northern Ireland’s NHS.

Ms Devlin said the RCN feared the short-term fix of redeployment could undermine longer-term staffing. She added surgeons had raised concerns this week that nurse redeployment during the pandemic, along with high vacancy rates, was hampering their ability to carry out operations and train of future surgeons.

Nursing Standard put Ms Devlin’s criticism in relation to learning from the experience of the pandemic to the trust.


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