NI to recruit from Philippines to ease nursing shortages

Country’s chief nursing officer says overseas recruitment is ‘temporary measure’ while supply of newly qualified nurses increases to cope with demand and ageing workforce

More than 600 nurses are to be recruited from the Philippines in an attempt to ease the chronic nursing shortage in Northern Ireland.

The country’s health service has a shortage of 1,500 nurses, with the workforce 10% below capacity of around 15,000, and health chiefs are warning of a difficult year ahead.

Chief nursing officer for Northern
Ireland Charlotte McArdle. Picture: PA

The overseas programme is hoping to recruit 622 nurses, mainly from the Philippines and some from India, by 2020.

‘Interim measure’

Northern Ireland’s chief nursing officer Charlotte McArdle said the shortfall had arisen because the supply from undergraduate recruitment has not kept up with growing demand and staff losses due to an ageing workforce.

She said the overseas recruitment initiative is intended only as an interim measure ‘to get through the difficult years’.

‘The answer for us is to grow our own workforce. We can't be reliant on other places to do that for us,’ said Professor McArdle. ‘The overseas programme is an interim step to help balance things while we get to the other side.’

She added that there has been greater investment in nursing student places in the country over the past two years, with the Department of Health increasing pre-registration course places by 38% from 650 to 900. However, the first cohort including these extra nurses will not qualifiy until 2019.

Ms McArdle said the existing shortfall was ‘significant’ but was not as bad as recruitment issues in England or the Republic of Ireland, and was ‘on a par with Scotland and Wales’.

Earlier this month, Nursing Standard reported that International Council of Nurses president Annette Kennedy said it was 'not right' to take nurses from countries such as the Philippines that needed to retain their trained staff.

Health and social care plan stalled

Professor McArdle added that unless a health transformation programme is up and running within two to three years, the already under-pressure health system will be in significant difficulties.

She said the health service could not continue to rely heavily on agency workers to bolster nurse numbers.

Transforming Your Care, an ambitious ten-year plan to make Northern Ireland's health and social care system fit for the 21st century, was unveiled by then health minister Michelle O'Neill in 2016.

However, following the collapse of the Stormont powersharing government in early 2017, there has been little progress implementing the plan.

Professor McArdle said: ‘The way services are organised is out of date and not delivering the way we want it to and therefore existing capacity cannot meet the ever-rising demand.

‘Transformation of health and social care is the answer, and indeed is the only way forward.’

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