Northern Ireland’s health service workforce is in the midst of a planning crisis, it has been claimed, with news that some 857 front-line posts locally remain unfilled.
That is the figure for vacancies within the Southern Area, where there is a shortage of 263 nurses and 204 social care/domiciliary care workers.
But across Northern Ireland as a whole, the number is more than seven times that, with 5,654 jobs not filled.
The revelation has brought expressions of alarm from one Newry and Armagh MLA who has called for a strategy to be put in place urgently to address the situation.
The SDLP’s Justin McNulty contacted the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health last week seeking a comprehensive breakdown of the number of vacancies across the health service here.
He said: “Recently Valarie Watts of the Health and Social Care Board told a Westminster Committee that there were 1,800 unfilled health jobs in Northern Ireland.
“But now the Permanent Secretary has confirmed it is much worse, with 5,654 vacancies being reported across the system and 857 of those being local.
“Our health service is in serious trouble, staff are over-stretched and the system under-resourced. This cannot continue and urgent action is needed from the very top.
“Of those 857 local vacancies, 263 nurses are needed and 204 social care/domiciliary care workers are needed.
“These are the staff on the front line and are the most critical to the survival of our health service.”
Mr McNulty said he was “astonished” to learn of the extent of the vacancies locally.
He added: “We often hear services are under pressure due to lack of staffing but this puts a new focus on the full extent of the problem.
“The figures show that 94% of the vacancies are front line posts across the professions like nurses, doctors or consultants, whereas only 6% of vacancies are administrative or clerical.
“These figures show the urgent need for a strategic plan to address the workforce planning crisis which is crippling our health service.
“I have sought an urgent meeting with the Chief Executive of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust to establish the full impact locally and to find out what actions are being taken to address this very serious issue.”